If you’ve ever had to physically squeeze yourself on to a delayed train you’ll know how unpleasant the experience is. Not only will you probably have a stranger’s armpit in your face, you’ll need to master the fine art of balancing in the middle of a rocking carriage with so little space you can’t even move your arms to get your phone out of your pocket.
If this sounds like your daily commute you’re not alone. Rail passengers lost four million hours to train delays last year – with around 80 trains a day facing significant delays throughout 2018, according to the consumer group Which?
The morning (or evening) rush hour can be stressful enough in the first place. But dealing with delays that are completely out of your control can really get the adrenaline pumping – whether you need to get into the office or a meeting, or simply get home for your children’s bedtime.
We heard from three passengers about just how much unreliable train services impact their day-to-day life.
The Commuter Who Tracks Every Delay
Scott Pepe, 26, works as a researcher and travels on South Western Railway from Witley in Surrey to London Waterloo at the cost of £4,000 a year.
“I just think it’s incredibly frustrating they can’t run their basic timetable on time,” he says. “I think most commuters accept that occasionally things go wrong and that running a railway is complicated. But they seem completely incapable – even when it’s a sunny day – of running on time.”
Pepe has documented every train delay he’s faced so far this year. And while most delays are fewer than 15 minutes, they are frequent, he claims. “We pay a lot of money and in any other industry if you’d paid someone money and they failed to deliver the service you’d either get decent compensation of they’d be punished by a regulatory body but they seem completely immune.”
I claim back because it’s cathartic and it’s the only lever I have to take out my frustration."
He’s documented 998 minutes of delays, equivalent to more than 16 hours, and says he’s only managed to get £17.90 back using SWR’s delay repay service. Delay repay only applies to SWR trains delayed by 15 minutes or more.
“It is not a straightforward process claiming back. But I claim it back because it’s cathartic and it’s the only lever I have to pull to take out my frustration with them – but 17 quid out of a £4,000 train ticket is clearly not worth it financially. I do it as it’s the only way I can get my own back.”
The Commuter Who Quit London (And Her Job)
Claire Ransom, 37, travelled from Reading to Oxford for four years and then moved to London and travelled from Acton to Covent Garden in London before quitting her job in publishing to start her own plant business.
The commute played a huge role in pushing her to take the plunge, she says, because it was just so stressful – and expensive (Ransom and her husband spent around £10,000 on trains between them while living in Reading).
“The overcrowding and being jammed in next to people in the morning, especially on the London trains, just really stresses me out. Every [stress] in life was magnified by this morning and evening routine and that was really quite a big part in making the decision to move away from London.”
Standing up on the train made me feel sick and claustrophobic – not a way to start the day."
The mornings were particularly stressful, says Ransom, as she’s need to work out strategies to be able to board a train – let alone get a seat. “I’d let four trains go by as they were just so crowded – and standing up on the train made me feel sick and claustrophobic. It was really not a way to start the day.”
If you don’t get a seat then you have to position yourself on the platform where you’ll know you’ll be able to get on, she says. “You have to know where on the platform to stand, then work out how to get on, and then it’s super crammed – everyone invades everyone else’s personal space and the tube smells really horrible. I’d be exhausted by the time I got to work.”
Since quitting her job and moving to Nottingham to start her own business, Claire says life has improved immensely. “I’d aways had this dream of starting my business. I had this epiphany one day after another average meeting and I thought: right, this is it, I don’t have to live like this anymore.
″I love the fact my commute is as long or short as I want it to be. My office is in my dining room or in my lounge, my kitchen or in a coffee shop – or in the warehouse where my business operates. It can be anywhere in the world.”
The Commuter Who Now Leaves At 5am
Peter Izard, 47, a banker, travels on Thameslink from Burgess Hill to London Bridge most weekdays – and last year things got so bad he was missing family meals on a regular basis and important events, including his sons’ parents evening.
He now gets an early service into London to allow for extra time if things go wrong. Commuters on his line “suffered massively” from overcrowding and delays, last year as well as cancellations resulting from strikes and timetable changes.
“It was complete and utter anarchy – you just couldn’t rely on the timetable it all.
“It was complete and utter anarchy – you just couldn’t rely on the timetable it all. Overcrowding was appalling. You were always late getting home and I’m a family man with two boys. I was constantly having to make excuses for missing events and it was extremely stressful.”
Things this year have vastly improved, Izard, says with delays at a minimum (his train this morning was just eight minutes late), but now he feels unable to rely on the service. “I’ve found the earlier train you get the more reliable it is – so I catch the first train at 05.20am and it tends to be pretty much on time.”
Izard doesn’t start work until 9am, despite arriving into London very early. So he builds his leisure time into the morning instead – effectively flipping his day on its head. ″I get in at 06.20am and walk to work, I’ll then go out for a run nice and early – I’m fortunate we have showers and changing facilities at work.”
He then leaves between 4.30pm and 6pm to travel home – avoiding the nightmare of peak rush hour whenever possible.
What do the train companies say?
A South Western Railway spokesperson said: “We are very sorry for the delays to some morning peak services between Witley and London Waterloo in the earlier part of the year. Unfortunately, there were a number of infrastructure issues in this area which had a significant impact on performance.”
The spokesperson said South Western Railway was working closely with Network Rail to address these issues and improve performance. “Since April there has been an improvement in the punctuality of services on this line, although we recognise there is still more to do,” the spokesperson said, adding it had recently simplified the compensation claim process.
A Govia Thameslink Railway spokesman said following the industry-wide issues surrounding the timetable changes last May they were “firmly back on track” with more services, and improved punctuality and reliability. Passengers had been paid £17m in compensation, the spokesperson added, and anyone impacted by a delay of 15 minutes or more could claim compensation, with most claims paid out within three working days.
Transport For London which operates the London Underground Network said the tube carries five million customers each day “and we appreciate that trains can become very busy, especially at peak times”. It said it had recently awarded a contract for longer, walk-through, air-cooled trains on the Piccadilly line to help ease some of this crowding and would continue to make the case to government for investment in increasing capacity and reliability across the network.
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