Saturday, 3 August 2013
Shame on First Great Western
I have had a few disastrous train journeys in the past but my recent trip to London made previous trips seem like a breathe of fresh air. The following account may sound exaggerated but I can assure you that this is a factual account of my journey from London Paddington to Plymouth on Monday 22nd July (departing London 15:06) and how the journey went from bad to worse.
Let's start from the very beginning, I was travelling with my friend Heather and we had both booked a super off peak return to give us a little flexibility over our return journey. After a lovely bit of tourism in London we opted for the 15:06 train, we assumed that 15:06 would not be classed as a peak train but we were mistaken. We were travelling between Reading at Pewsey when our tickets were checked, we were informed that peak time was now any time after 2.30pm and if we wanted to use our tickets we would have to get off the train and wait in Pewsey station until after 7pm. As the temperature outside was about 35 degrees we didn't fancy sitting in a station for 4 hours so we asked if we could pay to stay on the train. As you can imagine we were both upset about the situation as we has no idea that this train would be considered as a peak time train. As it happens this would later become the least of our worries.
We were told we could either pay a £60 fine each (this is on top of the £89 each we had already paid for our tickets) or pay £20 each for a ticket that would be valid until Pewsey, I queried how this would help as we wouldn't have valid tickets from Pewsey to Plymouth but I was told that due to short staffing no one would check our tickets from Pewsey onwards, we unhappily settled for this option so we could stay on the train and avoid paying £120 total for the fine. I still can't believe that 2.30pm is now considered peak time and wonder who else would classify this as a peak time for train travel?
After Pewsey the journey started to worsen, bear in the mind that, at the time, this was the hottest day recorded in the last 7 years and the government had issued a level 3 health warning. Firstly there were no announcements, again due to short staff, so we weren't receiving any passenger updates about which station we were approaching next.
We soon learned from other passengers that the air conditioning in Coach E hadn't been working since we left Paddington and there were several very small children starting to look rather unwell. One particular baby was very lethargic and a few of us started to worry that the baby was not looking too good, in the absence of staff and a massive queue of people trying to get cold drinks from the buffet car I set about finding spare seats in Coach C as this was the coolest place on the train, I asked a few people to move seats and eventually we got all the parents and children out of Coach E and into Coach C. This worked as a short term measure but then the air con stopped working in our coach (D) and Coach C as well as Coach E.
As you can imagine people were starting to get very stressed, the train was packed and the heat was overwhelming, all the fire exits and corridors were blocked with bags. I decided to venture to the buffet car to get more water as we were dehydrating fast and were extremely uncomfortable, I had to physically climb over peoples bags to get through the train, during my journey through the train I also established that every toilet was blocked and due to the heat you can imagine how awful this smelt. The pictures accompanying this article are taken at various stages of the journey but the corridors and fire exits were blocked pretty much throughout the journey, the train was so over booked that there was nowhere to put the excess luggage or the many prams on the train, if there had been an accident this would have been a death trap.
On arrival at the buffet car I joined the large queue that went back some way into the previous coach. I queued for 20 minutes to get to the front of the queue only to meet a lady coming out of first class who pushed in front of me and placed her order, I was not happy and explained to her that I had been waiting for 20 minutes and did not appreciate being pushed in front of, she explained that she had paid for trolley service but due to the lack of staff there was no trolley service available, the staff confirmed that all first class passengers would be allowed to move to the front of the queue. I was not a happy bunny, and nor was anyone else in the queue behind me, whilst we appreciated that this lady was not getting the service she had paid for we were disappointed by her lack of respect for us and the staff's disregard for our concerns.
Finally I was served, I asked for mineral water but was told they had sold out, I was informed I could buy tea, coffee, wine, alcohol or coke, I explained that I was very dehydrated and just wanted some water and did not want to consume alcohol or caffeine. Bare in mind we stop at many stations on our journey surely someone would have thought that keeping stocked up on mineral water was a priority in a level 3 heatwave? I asked if they could give me a cup of boiling water instead but was informed that they could not do this as they wouldn't have enough water left for people wanting teas and coffees. As I was about to leave the buffet car I noticed about 50 bottles of still mineral water in a trolley, I queried this and was told that the mineral water was for those in first class. Whilst I understand that those in first class pay for a superior service I still can't quite believe how those of in economy were treated on this day and I don't consider an £89 ticket to be particularly cheap so would expect a half decent service and not what we were given.
Finally we arrived in Plymouth, tired and dehydrated, and were pleased to leave the stinking, hot train, thinking our troubles were over we attempted to exit Plymouth Station but couldn't as we didn't have a valid ticket, we were on a peak train with only a valid ticket from Paddington to Pewsey. The gentleman at the gate was just about to ask us to purchase another ticket when I started to explain what had happened on the train, I also asked him to look at some of the faces of those who had also been on our train, he took one look at the tired, dehydrated, sweating passengers, smiled and let us through.
I will be sharing this blog with both First Great Western, the Health and Safety Executive and my local council. For those of you who live in, or travel to Plymouth, we have very limited transport links as our airport has been closed, our road links are poor and coaches take a long time to get to places like London. It seems that our rail links are getting increasingly worse and I am extremely disappointed with the service provided by First Great Western and will think twice before booking another train ticket.
I will keep you posted on the response I get from this blog I hope that First Great Western will not just find a scapegoat in the form of a lower paid easily expendable member of staff, instead I hope the more senior members of this company will take responsibility for delivering an appalling service. In the meantime please comment below about any problems you have experienced with train travel in the UK or transport problems you have faced when travelling in and out of Plymouth. The lesson surely is please save Plymouth Airport.