Wednesday, February 28, 2007

FGW "a disgrace" and "appalling"

Boris Johnson has joined the MPs speaking out against First Great Western. And he did so in his own inimitable style, by testing the journey to London from his constituency in Henley-on-Thames for himself. Follow the link above to read the full story from the Henley Standard.
I also quote this morning's Metro, which has the following report:
"The worst train service in the South-East when it comes to reliability is First Great Western, according to a transport watchdog. Punctuality and reliability on FGW's major commuter routes out of Paddington and in the Thames Valley were described by London TravelWatch as appalling in its latest Performance Monitoring Report. It comes as FirstGroup, which runs FGW and First Capital Connect, is on course to make a profit of £91 million from its rail division. Brian Cooke, chairman of the watchdog, said: 'Although showing a slight upturn year-on-year, First Great Western's commuter lines are again at the bottom of the class.'"
I don't think I need to add anything to this. "I hate First Great Western" badge anyone?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

How to be a millionaire

This morning I had to undergo a most traumatic experience - renewing my annual season ticket with First Great Western. I gave them so much money, I would officially be a millionaire if I lived in Vietnam. Or Venezuela. Or Indonesia for that matter. Okay, I've chosen some pretty weak currencies, I'll admit it, but I also looked for something for an equivalent price in the UK and came up with a nice 2000 Volkswagen Golf 1.6.
I have to say, it's tempting. Sometimes, the need to get back into a nice comfortable car and leave the freezing wet lateness behind is overwhelming. The stupid thing is that I do own a car. And I pay all the attendant costs that go with it. I spend hundreds of pounds on insurance, tax and maintenance every year and the thing sits on the roadside gathering bird poo, while I tramp about from platform five, to platform nine, and back again, trying to find a seat on a fast train from Reading to London.
Why on earth do I do this? Because the roads are congested, the car parking is non-existent and the fuel prices are inflated.
But I can't sell it. Because if I ever really need to go somewhere, I can't rely on the train. So I pay for the equivalent of a nice 2000 Volkswagen Golf 1.6 every year, for a service that doesn't work as it should.
I'm going to stop thinking about it now. It's enough to make a person sell up, move to Vietnam, and embark on a millionaire's spending spree that would put Victoria Beckham to shame.
I bet their trains work better than ours too.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Should we profit from our own misery?

I have something to run past you, and I'd be interested to know what you think. I've just recently taking to dabbling in the stock market. It's enormous fun, and I'm cheerfully ignoring the fact that the company in which I made my first acquisition is currently number five in the "Top Ten Losers" list on the BBC website, as I'm sure this is only a temporary glitch. Whilst I was perusing the list of possibles, I had a flash of inspiration. Why not buy shares in First Group, seeing as they make such enormous profits? Why shouldn't we benefit from our own misery? I hesitate to take such a step, as I feel it is somewhat wrong to be investing in a company that causes me such misery on a daily basis, but then I had another thought. Why don't we all buy shares in First Group? Wouldn't we then be in a win-win situation? Either they improve the service, and our dividends go down, or they don't, and we cash in? And, as shareholders, don't we have some small influence? I'd like your advice before I take the plunge, as I don't want to be seen as some kind of traitor to the cause. Please let me know your thoughts. The other option is to keep my morals intact and go back to investing in the lesser evils like guns and pharmaceuticals.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Night Train

I apologise for my lack of posts in the last week or so. I've been working late shifts, and have therefore been travelling on a service unknown to most commuters - the night train. The horrors to be encountered on this service are very different to the daily squeeze on the way to and from work. For a start, the trains are few and far between. On Monday night, I was unfortunate enough to miss a connection, and spent the hour between 11pm and midnight pacing up and down the platforms at Reading, until a member of the station staff came to make sure I was neither drunk nor planning to throw myself onto the tracks. I was, in fact, investigating platform 1, as I'd never used it before and wondered where it was. But I suppose I should be glad that someone's actually watching the security cameras, in case I am ever in late-night peril.

The other problem with taking the late train is something I can't blame FGW for - the passengers. They are drunk, loud, messy and generally unpleasant in every way. At least for all the huffing and coughing, the commuter is generally a quiet breed, too tired or stressed to say much. After last week's experience of the 2259 from Paddington, I felt like I'd made several trips to the zoo. And, here's a word of advice to the drunk. I don't want to talk to you. And, large groups of young girls, please don't sing. It's really very annoying. Well, enough of the grumpiness. The good news is the poll has backed my favourite slogan, and the "I Hate First Great Western" badges will soon be ready to send to the printers. Please continue to vote, as I may bring in a second set at some stage, if the first ones are a success.

I continue to hate, not because of the staff - particular thanks go to the kind train attendant who let me on the 8.24 when I was late this morning - but because I've just been quoted the price of renewing my annual pass. Let's just say I could buy a small car and take a pretty smashing holiday if I didn't have to get to work and back on the train every day. Sigh. Anyway, we soldier on, as only the commuter can.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Our MP joins the campaign

Reading West MP Martin Salter visited Pangbourne Station on Thursday morning to accept a petition from local campaigner Fiona Hope, who is lobbying for a return to the pre-December 2006 timetable. Well done to her for standing in the snow gathering signatures, and good luck to Martin Salter, who is writing to the FGW managing director Aliston Forster to push for more semi-fast trains to London. In the meantime, the badge poll continues, and I'm delighted to say that many of you are happy to join me in the hating zone. Does it help to know that First Group makes so much money, it's just bought Greyhound buses in America for, wait for it.... 1.9 billion pounds? And yet they're too tight to put an extra carriage on a few peak time trains? Go on, hate with me, it's really very cathartic.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Choose your weapon

I've had several suggestions for slogans on the protest badges. My favourite is still "I hate First Great Western", as you might expect, but I understand that not everyone wants to be hateful, and might just want to be very miffed indeed, or wear something more constructive. So, how do you feel about "FGW made me late today"? I can't see that offending anyone, and it has a more useful message. I see from my newspaper that the company has begun to apologise and investigate possible timetable changes, so well done to all of those who have been doing useful things like getting people to sign petitions, and involving their local MP, while I've just been farting around with badge designs. But I feel the battle is still far from over, so choose your weapon in the form of words, and I will print the favoured option onto a badge and then, one day soon, may even hand it to you during an extended delay.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The uneaten hat

So, three things to report: Firstly, predictably enough, the delays continue, and I will not be forced to eat my hat after all. I was late for work on Friday, and, since I always leave an extra half an hour to take account of delays, this is particularly galling.
Secondly, my friend had an important meeting this morning. So, despite spending more than three thousand pounds on her train ticket, she got into her car for part of the journey. In other words, the uselessness of FGW is forcing us to spend more money and damage the environment to boot, because IT CAN NOT BE TRUSTED to get us to work on time.
Thirdly, my friends and I went to the theatre in Oxford last night. The comedian we had gone to see was particularly funny, so I was confused as to why dozens of people started to leave just after half past ten. Then I realised - they were catching the last train! Luckily, we had driven, so were able to see the whole show. I agree with those who say that FGW is "not fit for purpose" because it simply cannot do the job it is designed for, which is to get people where they need to go in a reasonable time. So, I'd like to appeal to anyone in the Pangbourne area to sign the petition which demands a return to the pre-December timetable. Go to Also, please continue to comment to the managing director of FGW about your personal experiences. She can be reached at
Don't keep quiet and put up with it, or they might take our silence for acceptance.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The love train

So, how was it for you this week? I have a confession. The service from FGW in the last few days has been virtually faultless. I am shocked and delighted in equal measures, and long may it last. Is everyone experiencing a similar level of happy travel, or am I existing in some kind of parallel universe, in which trains come on time and seats are always available? I'm so pleased that if this level of service continues for a month, I will cancel my blog. I'm pretty confident that I won't have to do this, in an "eat my hat" kind of way, and it would be a lot of hard work down the drain, but if I was getting to work and back in a reasonable time, I wouldn't care! It's nice that in the month of St Valentine, I have reason to post such happy thoughts. Please feel free to burst my bubble and call me a deluded fool if your experience is different, but for now, I heart First Great Western!