Thursday, February 28, 2008

I don't hate South West Trains

I took the South West trains service from Windsor to Waterloo today, as allowed by my new dual availability ticket, and from thence, a Northern Line train to my destination.
I was at work 15 minutes early, I had a seat throughout, and I enjoyed the scenic views of Staines and Feltham as we sailed through (okay, that bit is a slight exaggeration). It went slowly, but, crucially, it went slowly exactly to time.
It was brilliant. I'm a convert.
Next week I shall be testing the system by trying to use it in both directions to see what happens.
The former drill of either running between platforms or standing and shivering for ages, whilst relying on four separate services to get me to my destination was clearly madness.
Slowly but surely wins the race. Tortoise Power!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

DfT and FGW don't tell the truth shocker

The Times newspaper reports today that London Travelwatch has accused ministers of colluding with First Great Western to conceal the true extent of its failures. Read the full story here. It seems that 311 cancellations over the past 11 months went unreported, according to the DfT.

Well, safe to say, I am un-flabbergasted and not at all surprised by the allegations. We all knew things were worse than FGW let on, and I suspect no commuters will be shocked to hear this news, as we've all known for ages that the system has been crap over the past year, to the extent that even a lazy person like me started a blog to complain about it.

At least the new management is, as it puts it, "blowing the whistle on itself".

In happier news, I have taken advantage of the "double discount" currently available due to the crap service before Christmas, and have renewed my season ticket this morning. Having taken the advice of a station manager who commented on an earlier post, I've got myself a ticket which can be used for trips both on FGW's services, and the South West Trains service to Waterloo from Windsor and Eton Riverside.

This means that I can opt out of FGW when the constant train-changing gets too much.
I might experiment with a journey on SWT next week and see how that goes. I think the trip will take longer, but since it's two trains instead of four, I might be able to put up with that.

I like this new management team that admits to its mistakes and offers cheaper tickets as an apology. That's all we really wanted from the start wasn't it?

Well, I suppose what we wanted was a good train service, but I'm beginning to wonder if that might just be pie in the sky. For now, an admission, an apology and a discount are working for me. Any chance of that off-peak upgrade again? That was good.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Half a Cheer

Latest News for those in the more Westerly areas of the FGW region. Full report from the BBC here:
"First Great Western is to pay for more trains and better passenger compensation after poor service on lines to Wales and the West Country.
The Swindon-based train operator agreed the £29m investment package after discussions with the government. Extra drivers and guards will be recruited to resolve a staff shortage.
FGW announced that five extra three-carriage trains will be leased for the troubled Cardiff to Portsmouth service. Compensation for delayed passengers next year will increase by half, on top of the doubling of compensation already announced for this year.
There will be extra discounted tickets available, better information systems and £4m will be spent on staff training."
More Train Less Strain, who organise the fare protests, have given the announcement "half a cheer", saying "We're very pleased to see more trains on a particularly troublesome route, but things like more cut price tickets are, to our mind, gimmicks."
Myself, I'm quite a fan of gimmicks, especially off-peak first class upgrades, or free cups of tea. Anything that acknowledges that travelling by train is not that fun and tries to improve it is fine by me.
Of course, the best gimmick of all would be cheaper tickets and fewer delays, but we can only live in hope.
Talking of delays, last night's trip out of Paddington was so bad I had to get off the train three stops early and get a lift home. I do wish suicidal people would find some other way to off themselves than throwing themselves under a train, it really is most inconvenient. I know it sounds callous but really, it throws the whole system into complete chaos for hours.
And, if you're standing nose to nose in a crowded carriage on the one train leaving the station for your destination (who knew there were 10 stops between Paddington and Slough?) please don't chomp away on something with open mouth whilst you're in close proximity to my ear, or you might end up one of those casualties on the tracks yourself. You have been warned.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Back on track

Greetings friends. I've returned from a week up a mountain covered in lovely snow to find that we still haven't had a proper attack of winter at home, and now I'm wondering if we are actually going to see any of the white stuff this year.
Since it was a skiing holiday, we were up at 7am every morning, so I've now come back to work for a rest. As a result, the alarm clock did not, er, alarm me this morning, and I barely noticed the commute, except that the fast train was delayed, so I caught it, which was good. Also, I'm enjoying my current book so much that getting on and off at the necessary stations was feeling like a real inconvenience. If it's still good at the end, I'll add it to the book list on the blog.
My season ticket runs out tomorrow, and I can't help but wonder if it might make more sense to buy a ticket from South West trains instead, as the Windsor - Waterloo service seems to be much more reliable, and only involves one train instead of two, though it takes a bit longer. It's a bit late now to make a decision, and I suspect I will stick with FGW, who are quicker when things are working properly. I look forward to seeing if the "double discount" announced by Andrew Haines a short while ago has a noticeable effect on the price of my ticket. It will still make me quite grumpy to hand over such a large amount of money, but it's so much cheaper than buying weekly and monthly tickets, and so much less hassle.
Mind you, it doesn't bode well for my work-from-home campaign that I'm planning to buy a year's ticket. Hum.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Pants on fire!

Now, I'm not sure how this happened, but my ire is beginning to turn and point (can ire point? If it doesn't, I think it should start, and, why not, let's have it stamping its feet too) firmly in the direction of the DfT. Sure, we all like to hate FGW, because they're the ones running the trains, and they've certainly made their share of mistakes, but it rather gets on my nerves when MPs start slagging off the company, when the DfT are the ones who are pulling all the strings.

Read the following, from the Sky News website: (read the full report here)

Chancellor Alastair Darling criticised First Great Western while in the West Country city of Bristol.
"I know there have been very great problems with this particular franchise that have gone on far too long. Frankly, the travelling public using the line are entitled to expect far better reliability and punctuality in a far better service. First Great Western need to get a grip of it. But I know that the Transport Secretary is very focused on this."
And fellow MP Dawn Primarolo said: "I share the rage of thousands of passengers regularly when I'm on a service where I can't get a seat, I'm tired, and I can't get home.
"I think they (First Great Western) have got to be given a clear ultimatum to improve the service. If they don't, we need to reconsider (renewing their franchise)."

Righty ho, so it's all their fault and not yours at all in any way then? The problem is, I don't believe it. It's just all such a lot of finger-pointing crap, and not in any way helpful to sorting out the problem of GETTING THE TRAINS TO RUN ON TIME!
Yes, FGW have their problems with staff-shortages, being a bit rubbish at giving us information sometimes, and putting up prices, and all of those things are their fault. But if they weren't so shackled by the DfT, they'd be able to sort out some of their problems and get the service improved.
I'm quite riled now. Which is a shame, as I'm off on holiday next week, so was having a lovely term's-out kind of Friday.
I'm all for getting a few "I Hate the DfT" badges printed, but I think there would be a queue of car drivers ahead of us, and who ever heard of a government department listening to anyone anyway. Golly, I've gone all political. Someone bring me a magazine full of celebrity gossip, quick!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Days when I like delays

Happy Valentine's Day everyone, unless you hate the whole concept, in which case, happy 14th of February, hope it's a good day generally and the shops full of gaudy red hearts don't get you down too much.
I had plenty of time to look at the inescapable flowers and assorted sentimental goo this morning. I arrived at Slough station to find that the fast train I usually miss had been delayed, which meant that I caught it, and sped into London, arriving 15 minutes earlier than usual, and arriving at my destination with plenty of time for a relaxed stroll into work, rather than the usual swearing and huffing and puffing.
Talking of huffing and puffing, in my continuing quest to work from home, I've realised that I'm definitely going to have to build some exercise into the equation. I've worked out through a process of counting (yes, I'm that weirdo walking up and down with my lips moving) that I get through at least half of my recommended 10,000 steps a day just by walking to the station, walking between platforms, walking between tube stations, and walking to my work. And back again. Whereas, the distance from my bed to the kettle and from thence to the computer is approximately 20 steps, and although these are in the form of stairs, I don't really think that's going to be sufficient to keep me fit and healthy. Even wearing my heaviest dressing gown and with the occasional trip to the phone or front door. Which is a worry. Mind you, with the extra three to four hours a day Former Commuting Time (FCT) I'll have at my disposal, I could go to the gym, have a shower, maybe even get dressed too and possibly interact socially with some people in my area. It's a tempting prospect. I must start a list of more 'Things To Do With My FCT', when I've got a moment.
Finally, I must draw your attention to the following site, which will also be appearing in my links list on the right hand side of the blog. Lee Fletcher from the First Great Western Coffee Shop has, along with several other people and groups, started a new site called "Campaign Against New Beeching Report", or CANBER, which campaigns against the closure of existing rail stations and train services nationwide. Find it here. Give it a visit, as it's only if we all get together and complain that anything will get done. Muttering under your breath in a packed train will not change the world. Eh, I'm right philosophical today.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Spring has not sprung

So, there I was, having a lovely Sunday walk, admiring both the snowdrops and the daffodils, and all the while pushing aside the nagging feeling that this might not be the right state of affairs for the beginning of February.
I shouldn't have worried. Things came right this morning. I walked to work amidst the freezing fog rolling across the Thames, which was making the swans go fluffy as they tried to keep out the cold.
And, bizarrely enough, I rather enjoyed it. Really cold weather has been so rare this winter, that I quite enjoyed the feeling of being properly dressed in a coat and scarf, rather than feeling a bit too bundled up for the clement weather.
Normally by this time of year I'd be at my most miserable. In fact, if I look back at my posts from February last year, I see that I was considerably less cheerful, although this might have been due to the rather longer commute I was undertaking when I started the blog. But I think the only thing I'm enjoying about the cold weather is the fact that there's only been a very small amount of it.
I'm off up a mountain next week, with planks stuck to the end of my legs in a most unnatural way. I expect this will bring my love affair with the winter to an abrupt end, as I'm really much more of a summer person.
In fact, if this is global warming, it's very pleasant. Maybe I should increase my carbon footprint rather than doing the opposite. Back to your cars everyone!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Becoming Blogless

So, we've made it through January, and so far, it's been pretty kind to us on the whole, weatherwise at least.
But this morning I found it harder than usual to drag myself from my bed, even though it's Friday. It was quite noticeably colder too, and although none of the trains was delayed, I was becoming impatient on the platforms, because of the increased chill factor. I also feel more gloomy than usual, and for no discernable reason. It must be February.
I've recently been finding the commute more laborious than usual, and I think it's because every day is such a battle. Even when things are going well, it only takes the tube to stop for a few minutes at Edgware Road and the journey starts unravelling. I then end up taking a later, slower train from Paddington, and pull into Slough just as the Windsor train is pulling out, which means a 20 minute wait for the next service.
For non-commuters, 20 minutes probably doesn't sound like a lot. But if you factor in a 15 minute wait at Paddington, plus a couple of minutes on the two different tube stations I frequent on an almost-daily basis, and the time I get home can differ by up to an hour, and this is when the delays are just a few minutes. It's a daily battle of wills and elbows just to get a seat, and to get home in an hour and a half, rather than two, or two and a half, and it's so tiring.
For this reason, my thoughts have been turning towards the idea of working from home. I have fantasies where I wake up in the morning, make myself a cup of tea, and sit down at my computer in my dressing gown, ready to write something inspiring, for which I'll be paid goodly sums of money - or, at least, enough to cover the mortgage. Since moving to Windsor, this feeling has become stronger, because it's such a nice place to live, but I seem to spend most of my time struggling in and out of London, and it seems so absurd.
The comment in my last post from frequentlyfazed really hit the nail on the head, it's all just such a bloody grind, and it wears you down.
So, at the risk of making myself blogless, this year I'm going to channel my energies towards working from home, and leave the world of First Great Western behind. Maybe I'll find that it won't all be snug cups of tea and walks by the river, so keep watching - by next year, I could have a parallel blog up and running - But I doubt it.