How to run a railway

Yesterday, I came home by train, and since I didn’t want to stand up for five and a bit hours, I reserved a seat on the 12.03 from Paddington. Or not.

As 12.00 approached, the information boards said ‘Please wait’ for the Penzance train, along with warnings that the doors would be shut 30 seconds before the train was due to leave. There are very few seats at Paddington station, so I had to stand until my back ached. Fortunately, with a couple of minutes to go, the announcement came through that the train would be leaving from platform four, and the crowds surged towards the barrier. As it seemed unlikely that the train doors were about to be shut with half of Paddington station trying to get on, I let the herds go through first, secure in the knowledge that I had a reserved seat in coach H. Or not.

Closest to the barrier was coach A, followed by B, C, D, E, F, K, and so on. There was no coach H. However, a GWR employee on the platform announced that reservations for coach H would be found in coach F. Problem solved. Or not.

I worked my way through coach F, starting at seat 1, and when I finally reached the other end, I discovered that the last seat was number 70, which (like every other seat in coach F) was occupied. I checked. No seat 71. Fighting my way against the tide of passengers struggling (misguidedly) to get into coach F, I returned to the platform to ask the GWR employee what I should do. “See if you can find a seat somewhere else,” he suggested. Meanwhile, the announcements informed us that the train was about to leave, so I got on through the nearest door.

However, the door nearest me turned out to be in first class, and another GWR employee informed me that I couldn’t sit down because I had a second class ticket. I explained the absence of seat H 71, and suggested that in the circumstances I might be able to sit in first class, but I was told that I’d have to ask the train manager. When I enquired as to his whereabouts, I was told that he was in coach A. Problem solved. Or not.

By this time, my back was killing me, and the aisles were packed with passengers who hadn’t been able to find seats, so I had about as much chance of getting to coach A to ask the train manager if I could sit in first class as I had of finding seat H 71. Luckily, a third GWR employee came up with a solution. He moved someone from a seat just inside second class to another seat in second class, from where he moved a third passenger. Presumably, he continued to move passengers until the train reached Reading, where someone got off, and the last passenger to be moved could finally sit down for the rest of the journey.

After we’d left Exeter (where the crew changes), I asked why there was no seat H 71. It seems that it was the wrong kind of train. Apparently, it should have been ‘one of the new ones’. In the circumstances, we were only half an hour late arriving in Penzance, so things could have been worse.

One thought on “How to run a railway

  1. I suppose you should be grateful you reached home safely and mostly intact. A friend of mine, returning from a gruelling journey from Australia a couple of days ago, llanding at Manchester was met with a sign at the railway station with the legend “Bus service only”. He had to take a bus to Preston, a train to Penrith and then his long suffering wife made a round trip of 100 miles for the last leg.

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