Wednesday, August 29, 2007

And so, we meet

Good news, it looks as though I am to be granted an interview with a senior FGW manager in the next few days, so I will be looking at all your comments and putting together some questions.
If you have a burning question you'd like to ask, please let me know by adding a comment below, and if it's a good one, I'll put it on the list.
I'd also be interested to know your views on the following. My friend rang me, furious, on Bank Holiday Monday, saying she'd been unable to get to work. The Reading Festivalgoers were arriving at the station en masse, and because of health and safety concerns, all entrances to the station were closed. Only a few people were being admitted at a time. My friend went to the side entrance of the station, explained that she was a season-ticket holder trying to get to work, and asked to be let into the station. She was told she'd have to join the gigantic queue of tent-carrying welly-wearers and take her chances. She gave up and went home.
Now, should she have been allowed into the station? Or shouldn't she be given special treatment just because she's a season ticket holder?
My view is that the Reading Festival happens every year, and that perhaps there should be some provision to help get those extra people home, maybe some buses or extra trains, or at least some way of letting everyone else go about their normal business rather than bringing the whole thing to a standstill. I'd be interested to know your views.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

You want to talk? Let's talk

The recent appearance of an article about this blog in a local newspaper has led to a small flurry of appearances on local TV and radio.
The latest of these was on BBC Oxford, and while I was on air, the presenter Bill Heine read a statement from First Great Western, which suggested that the company is always happy to listen to people's problems, and that it seemed that some people (I think they mean't me) simply didn't want a constructive dialogue with them.
It's half an hour later, and I'm still fuming. A dialogue is exactly what I do want, and now I've decided to try and get it, since they've laid down the gauntlet. I'm not sure whether the comment came from a press officer, or from someone in management, but it's typical of First Great Western's approach of "stick your fingers in your ears, shout 'la la la, I can't hear you' and pretend everything's fine"
So, I've now decided to call the press office myself, and see if I can get myself a bit of dialogue with someone. But first I need to know - do you feel First Great Western is happy to listen to your problems? And if not, what would you ask them if you had the chance?
I'll be happy to pass on your grievances, and will let you know what they say in response.
Hell hath no fury like a commuter scorned.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hallelujah! The cheque arrives

Well my friends, here's proof, finally, that you can obtain a refund from First Great Western, if you really try hard.
Thanks to some timely intervention from the Insider, a priority cheque was dispatched, and my claim from the 28th of April is finally settled, thank goodness. I do wonder how long it would have taken had the Insider not stepped in and performed magic, but let's not dwell on that, on such a happy day.
In other news, starting the week after next, my run of late shifts comes to an end, and sadly therefore, so does my first class upgrade, as I'll be travelling during peak hours again.
I have so much enjoyed the peace and quiet, and occasional cups of tea that go with a first class upgrade, that I can understand why those with First Class tickets are so loath to let any of us cattle-types in. But to be honest, as long as I've got my bum on a seat and the train runs to a reasonable schedule, I can live without the occasional free biscuit.
And in a month's time, I move into my new abode, which is considerably nearer to London, and therefore begin a whole new commuting experience, from the branch line in Windsor. I can't wait to tell you about all the Slough-based adventures I'm sure to have.
As the summer (what summer?) comes to an end, and things begin to change in work and home life, perhaps its time to reflect that things aren't quite as bad as they were when I began this blog back in January, and perhaps there's room for hope that they might get even better in the near future, with a favourable wind and a bit of luck.
Or maybe the arrival of the cheque has given me a rose-tinted moment, I'll probably be back to my normal grumpy self tomorrow, so that's something to look forward to, I'm sure you'll agree.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tom Harris on Radio 4

You and Yours this lunchtime featured the question: A government White Paper aims to give the UK railway network a clear direction over the next 30 years. Will it?
Listen again here
No specific mention of First Great Western was made, but the Minister for Rail Tom Harris was asked about the budget set out in the White Paper and said the following:
- 1,300 new carriages will be bought to increase capacity across the network
- "Reading was identified by Brunel as a major bottleneck in the mid-1800s... The amount of money we're going to spend there will make a major difference in terms of extra platforms and extra capacity."
- "The government doesn't need any additional increases in fares in order to achieve the revenue streams predicted in the white paper"
This final point only relates to restricted fares like season tickets, but I must admit it's really nice to actually hear a government minister say that there won't be fare increases for commuters as a result of the planned improvements.
Rail groups on the programme all welcomed the White Paper, but say they'll be watching the fares over the next few years, as the bad news is that unrestricted fares could go up sharply - one contributor predicted a rise of 20% in unrestricted tickets like standard return fares.
Have a listen and tell me what you think. Do you believe it?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I'm not completely bonkers, who knew?

My thanks go to the diary editor of the Reading Evening Post, Steven Hughes, who kindly gave the blog a mention in Friday's edition of the paper, and has also done a pretty good job of making me appear like a normal human being, fancy that.

He says (in case you're not from the Reading area)

"Okay, so the campaign's name is straight out of the 'na na na-na naaaa' book of playground taunts, but The Diary salutes it for expressing the exact feelings of most of the people who have to catch FGW trains".

So, hurrah! If the newspapers (alright, one newspaper) say I'm doing the right thing, then I must be.

What this does do, apart from allowing me to show off, is to bring your attention back to the main reason for this blog, which is persuading people to wear "I hate First Great Western" badges, in order to embarrass the company into listening to us, the mere customer. So, if you haven't ordered one yet, e-mail me today and do so. There are three good reasons why you should:

1) They're free!
2) They're funny!
3) They're due to be the fashion sensation of the autumn season!*

Just think, if you don't, First Great Western will eventually get round to realising that the one thing that's stopping them making even more money than they are at the moment is having to actually run the pesky trains, and will cancel them altogether in order to maximise their profit margin. It certainly feels as though that's the way it's going.
So, e-mail me at and order your badge today.

*This might be a lie, but you never know, remember the puffball skirt? Stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hello? Can I say it more loudly?

The past few days have seen quite a debate about whether or not London TravelWatch libelled First Great Western when they wrote to the government criticising its punctuality record, and suggesting that its franchise be taken away.
Now, I frankly don't care whether or not the comments made were defamatory, because that is not the point.
The point is this, and it's the point of this whole blog, the only reason it exists, other than to give me something to do during those quiet moments at work.
The point is: customers of First Great Western are not happy. We are not happy with the fact that despite paying very high prices for our train tickets, we do not get the service we need in order to go about our business. We are not happy because when we try to get a refund, we are always sent the standard brush-off letter, and are forced to complain again and again before we get any sensible response. We are not happy because there are not enough carriages on the trains, so we are forced to spend hours sweating like sardines in the dirty foyers. And we are not happy because (pause to take large breath) WE FEEL AS THOUGH NO-ONE IS LISTENING!
I don't care who runs my trains. If First Great Western would listen to us for long enough to make a few improvements and run things a little better, I'd be happy for them to run the service. I know that the main problems are the Department for Transport, Network Rail and years of neglect. And, I don't think FGW should have the franchise taken away, because the next company probably wouldn't do any better. But, guess what? We have a few ideas, and we'd like a bit of dialogue. It's the mushroominess of it that I can't stand, being kept in the dark and being fed bullshit.
So, please, can we have a conversation about how we can improve the system, rather than having a fight about who said what to whom, and who started it?
Thank you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The McDemo photo

So, here it is, Mark Thomas and one of his McDemo colleagues hating First Great Western on our behalf. They certainly don't look very happy, but that might be because they had a total of 181 demos to do that day, and I think this was the first.

Still no cheque from First Great Western, but this may be partly due to the postal system collapsing around our ears.

The Insider has posted a very interesting explanation of the madness and complications of the fare system, so if this is your particular beef, go and visit him here. I tried to read it all, but began to lose the will to live about half way down, I'm so glad I'm not the one trying to sell the tickets, the system's a mess!

I'm beginning to feel a bit like a message board, so let me tell you a story instead.

I'm on a late shift again. Last time I worked a late shift on a Friday, there was a drunken businessman being sick next to the departure boards. Let's call him Mike. He wasn't in a good way, and a kind young drunken man was trying to help him get home. Let's call him Jim. Then a much less kind drunk person decided that Jim was patronising Mike, and tried to have a fight with Jim. So far, so typical of Friday nights on Paddington Station.

But then, amazingly, everyone joined in to look after Mike. Once he was on the train, the whole carriage decided he was their pet project for the way home. Despite the fact that he kept disappearing under the luggage rack to be sick, everyone was very nice to him, and made sure he got onto the platform safely at Reading. I'm afraid to say I don't know what happened to him after that, as I didn't really fancy taking him home in my car, what with him being sick everywhere every five minutes and all. The most intriguing thing about Mike was that he was carrying two umbrellas. Jim was very concerned that either he'd stolen the second umbrella, or, more worryingly, that it belonged to another extremely drunk businessman who he'd lost somewhere along the way.

There are two things I took away from that journey. The first is that drunken people aren't always annoying and stupid, though they usually are. That trip was fun, everyone was in a good mood, and the atmosphere was great.

The second is that I thank FGW from the bottom of my heart for the off-peak first class upgrade that will allow me to escape the worst of the pantomime tonight, as it's not usually anywhere near as fun as that.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Actual magic happens

That Insider is a bona fide miracle worker. As promised, I received a letter yesterday with an offer of a free first-class journey of my choice, and news that a priority cheque to the value of £12.00 would be sent out with the greatest haste. I will provide photographic evidence of the cheque when it arrives, as it will indeed be a historic moment.
I think we can deduce from this that the Insider does indeed have the ear of the FGW management, and that we can rely on the sage advice available on the blog In Defence of First Great Western.
However, I have been asked to say that your complaints should still go through the official channels, except in exceptional circumstances. This is because the Insider is very busy fighting crime, leaping tall buildings, and of course answering our many and varied questions about the inner workings of the First Great Western empire.
If talking of those inner workings is your thing, I have also been asked to draw your attention to the First Great Western Coffee Shop, a forum where you can discuss the ins and outs of your daily journeys to your heart's content. It is also a useful place for us to organise ourselves when the time comes for the next fare protest, which the nice people at More Train Less Strain are organising sometime in the autumn.
Thank you for your attention, you may now go back to staring out of the window and wondering why you're not sitting in the garden in the sunshine with a cold drink instead of being stuck at work.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Free money from FGW

My diary informs me that it is now 100 days since First Great Western failed to provide a bus replacement service, and left me beside the side of the road in the middle of the night, forcing me to spend £12.00 on a taxi to get home.
Since then I have written three letters of complaint, and received two rail travel vouchers and a free standard-class return trip to the location of my choice.
What I have still not received, sadly, is the £12.00 which was the subject of my original request.
I'm wondering what comes now, as I pen my fourth complaint letter this week. The apologies have become more and more grovelling, the offers of free travel more and more generous, but still no cheque arrives, so what next? Well, my fingers are crossed for a first-class upgrade, as I am thoroughly enjoying my free three-month off-peak upgrade, (see previous post to find out how to get yours, if you haven't already) but I fear that may be beyond the power of even the most senior complaints manager.
Still, it can't hurt to ask. I'll let you know how I get on.
On another note, it seems more and more people are jumping to the defence of FGW, and setting up blogs to answer our questions and explain the problems behind the delays. This is great, and the sort of thing that the FGW management has been too short-sighted to provide so far. So, please visit In Defence of First Great Western and see if you can get your questions answered.