Last night’s journey home from work didn’t go as well as it might.

Now let me say at the outset that I’m not over-dramatising here – I know that for all that I was forty minutes late home, someone has died, and their family and friends, a train driver and all the witnesses had a much worse evening than I did. And I know that whem a tragedy happens on the rail line, trains have to be disrupted while certain things get done.

It’s the information I get annoyed about: People have complained that there wasn’t any information about what was going on, where really the reverse is true – there was too much information, on the platform boards, on the concourse displays, on the official South West Trains Twitter feed and on the website. All of it contradictory and all of it bearing no resemblance to what was actually happening.

I got to Waterloo to be told the Southampton train (or more precisely the Weymouth train, which goes through Southampton) was at platform fourteen – so I went there, to find a crowd waiting to board the train who’d been told it was going to Reading. It didn’t matter, the train was locked down with no crew anywhere in sight, so wherever it was meant to be going, it wasn’t going anywhere.

Then someone had a phone call from someone at home, who’d seen on the website that the previous Weymouth train, which should have already left, was still on platform seven, so we all scrummed down and beetled across to there. Well the train was still there right enough, but so full of people that you couldn’t have squeezed a chocolate swiss roll (or other confectionery of your choice) on board, never mind another person. They must have been taking it in turns to breathe on there, and I wasn’t getting involved with that.

So we charged back to the tunnel again, this time in response to a tannoy announcement that there was a Basingstoke train on platform nine, and that would at least get me partly home and there’s a better selection of trains from Basingstoke. And sure enough there was a train, and there was plenty of space – in fact it was only half full – because the guard had shut and locked the doors, and didn’t open them again before the train left five minutes later.

Then exactly the same thing happened with another Basingstoke train, this time from platform eleven after another dash through the tunnel between platforms.

Then there was a call for a train to Southampton from platform eight: I was one of the lucky ones who made it there before the doors were shut, and as the train pulled out we were told that this had been going to be the Southampton train, but for technical reasons it was going to terminate at Basingstoke, Arrrgh…still, at least I was moving in the right direction.

And then I got to Basingstoke, and after running between platforms one and four three times (because that was what the announcements led me to do, not for fun or anything), I got on a train home which wasn’t run by South West Trains, so went very smoothly.

The thing is, the only sensible explanation for all that confusion – and I use the word “sensible” loosely – is that the person deciding what information goes out to the waiting passengers isn’t the same person who decides which trains will go where – and they aren’t talking to each other. Not only that, but the Twitter feed, website and station information boards are all run by different people as well.

I’m not sure if this is most like Schroedinger or Einstein, but it seems the only way to really know where a train is going is to get on it and go there. I’m sure it didn’t ought to be like that.

Comments are closed.