Well, dear reader, I missed an article last week due to having to take a trip to Southampton. I was due back on Thursday night and so should’ve had plenty of time to regale you with my adventures but due to circumstances beyond my control I had to postpone my return until Friday. This was not an easy or pleasant trip and as usual I would like to share my outrage with you…
At 1310 last Wednesday I found myself on Darlington station, with newspaper, illicit pasty (don’t tell Mrs H!) and large latte in hand waiting for the direct train to Southampton. I could have flown from Newcastle Airport but by the time I’d taken the train to Newcastle and then the Metro out to the airport, gone through all the palaver of checking in and the boredom of waiting around for the plane it was nearly as quick to take the train from Darlo direct to Southampton… so I paid the £106 return and clutching my seat reservation I awaited the train.
As the train approached the platform the first thing that I noticed was how long it was… or more accurately – how short it was. It was just four coaches long – a short “Virgin Voyager”. However, I got on OK and found my seat and off we jolly well went!
At the next stop (York) about a million passengers got on… or so it seemed to me… the train became full: – and when I say full, I mean FULL. Every seat was taken (the train manager announced that 95% of them were reserved so “If you don’t have a ticket then you will be standing”) all the vestibules were full, the aisles of each of the 4 carriages were full and people were even standing in the toilets. It was nigh on impossible to leave your seat to go for a leak and it was impossible to get to the buffet, as that was full of people as well!
After York we stopped at Leeds, where a large number of people got off… followed by an even larger number getting on. This continued at every major station… Sheffield, Derby, Birmingham New Street, Coventry, Reading… in fact all the way to Southampton where I left the train dying for a leak and some food… even a cheesy bap from the stations “Upper Crust” (which I had and it was pretty good actually!).
For the Friday lunchtime return journey I had managed to reserve a seat on the 1215 from Southampton to Glasgow (calling at Darlo) and as I was waiting in the glorious sunshine (it really is warmer down there y’know) a lady came up to me and, after showing me some ID, asked me where I was going and if I would like to fill in a customer survey about my journey from Southampton today. Liking a moan as much as the next miserable old codger, I immediately agreed and she pressed an A4 envelope into my hand containing a comprehensive questionnaire. A few minutes later the train arrived (Oh God… It was yet another 4 coach Virgin Voyager) and I embarked for the six hour journey back to the Beautiful North.
Once again I took my seat and waited patiently as there was a slight delay in departure because people just kept getting on the train… more and more of them. Every seat was full and people were standing in the aisles already! The train had only started its journey from Bournemouth and Southampton was the second stop… clearly the train just didn’t have enough capacity for the route. As we progressed north, the pattern that became apparent travelling south repeated itself, with the train becoming seriously overcrowded again.
As we left Coventry, with the train groaning at the seams, an announcement came over the public address system telling us “due to maintenance, this train will terminate at Birmingham New Street, but another, identical train will be waiting across the platform and all seat reservations will be in the system”. Well whoopee. Just what we needed. All the grannies that were put on the train by their families at Bournemouth knowing that they wouldn’t have to change trains until they got to their destinations were to be disturbed… but understandably if the train had a mechanical problem then OK… I suppose we had to comply!
At Birmingham International (the stop before Birmingham New Street) the train stopped and the doors opened. The train was so full that nobody could actually get on! The doors closed again and off we ran into Birmingham New Street.
As we pulled in to Birmingham New Street we looked across to the adjacent platform and sure enough, as promised, a Virgin Voyager with our service details on the side was waiting… as were a huge number of people on our platform… apparently waiting for our train! Hmmm… My suspicions were aroused… At that moment the PA burst into life once more and the train manager told us that if we wanted to travel onwards to any stations to Manchester then to stay on this train as it was now going to Manchester!
It took some time to empty the train due to the immense overcrowding and all of the luggage that had to be unloaded and as we crossed the Platform we had to push our way through the throng of eager Mancunians all desperate to board the train that we were leaving so that they could ensure themselves of a seat. As I reached the door of the new train we wereshouted at by a young Oik in a railway employee’s uniform “Come on! Come on! Get on the train! It’s got the road!”. I turned to him and shouted back at the top of my voice “People are still trying to get off the other bloody train! This isn’t our fault you know, it’s a railway problem, don’t make it ours!”. He looked at me with hate but wisely shut up. There are notices on most stations saying that staff have “a right to work without fear of violence or abuse” or something close to this. This little git forfeited that right. If he had continued than I would have thrashed him there and then. Passengers have a right to travel without fear of violence or abuse as well. And travelling in overcrowded conditions for hours followed by being shouted at by a little turd like him is abuse of the highest order.
When we did get on the new train… joy of joys… the seat reservations had not been transferred into the system, but I was one of the lucky ones and found a seat. Hundreds (I am not exaggerating for a change) did not. So a Virgin employee had told us a blatant lie about seat reservations. We watched our old train depart for Manchester and then, as overcrowded as ever, we were off! When I left the train at Darlo it was still overcrowded, with some people having been stood up all the way from Southampton… and continuing to stand no doubt as they travelled on towards Glasgow. I videoed a clip of the overcrowding on my phone and will be forwarding it to Virgin along with a turd in an envelope (well… the customer survey anyway)!
Clearly 4 coaches on any long distance, cross country service is nowhere near enough… particularly as those imbeciles running the trains were aware that “95% of the seats are reserved” so they actually knew of the upcoming problem and could’ve taken action. But they chose not to. A lot of people paid a lot of money for the privilege of overcrowding. Even the trains in Delhi have more than 4 coaches so why not these? Virgin also caused uproar and stress at Birmingham New Streetby deciding to send our Voyager unit to Manchester when an identical one was on the next platform. I’ve no doubt they had their reasons for this but they were not communicated to us and if Richard Branson had been nearby he would not have survived. I would have joined in the communal punching of his weirdy beardy cheesy grinning face into a bloody pulp. He should be decapitated and his head stuck on a pole outside Euston station to remind people what happens to those who run a third world railway at first world prices.
Sod the carbon footprint… next time I fly!