Monday 21 December 2009

Is there a right kind of Snow?

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Aaah, the joys of rail travel in the Snow.

What excuses did they roll out this time? Broken down trains. Signalling faults. Translation: "Our kit is worn out and isn't waterproof any more".

Overall this morning wasn't actually too bad. Sure the train was running late, and was tremendously overcrowded. At Elstree there was a guy who had taken all he could of waiting in the snow and physically forced his way onto the train. Uncomfortable for those of us already aboard, but I can understand his frustration. It took 20 minutes to go two stops; however when I finally got into Canary Wharf I found that I was actually back on schedule and wasn't late into the office at all. Bit of a result really.

Then comes the trip back.

Around 4:30, when the snow was coming down hard again, the boss gave us an out, so I was a little early leaving. I had a phone call to make on the way to the station so didn't wear my gloves. By the time I got across the footbridge and indoors my fingers had pretty much seized up. When I got down onto the Jubilee Line platform the crowd was immediately apparent. I considered changing at London Bridge and getting the Northern line up to St Pancake but decided against that. It turns out that was a good plan, as I saw a little while later on Twitter that London Bridge station was closed for safety reasons due to overcrowding.

So I got the Jubilee straight through to Wet Hamster. Arrived at the Thameslink station to see a board full of delays (surprise!). There was about half an hour to the next departure northbound according to the board so I grabbed myself a kebab while I was waiting.

The board had said the train was due at 18:28. I got there 10 minutes before that to see a train on the platform and ready to leave. Annoyance one: The primary source of information for the cattle/product (previously known as people) on the station is the information board. It would be nice if the delay predictions were based on reality rather than guesswork. FCC arrival times are similar to Windows file transfer estimates and seem to have no connection to actual events. Sure I will be pissed about the delays either way, but if the time estimates on the boards are accurate at least it gives me a chance to do something other than wait around on a freezing cold platform.

The next one on the board was due at 18:58. I settled in for a long cold wait on platform two. Annoyance two: I am not sure whether this is true or not. When I tweeted a few days back about a lack of gritting on the platform causing me to slip on ice, someone I know informed me that current health and safety guidelines are to not use grit on walkways. The reasoning being that if you grit then people expect the surface to be ice free (and presumably are able to sue you if you have missed a bit). Whether this is the reason or not, I have not seen any gritting of rail platforms taking place this year. I can see how some H&S womble may come up with this sort of reasoning; however when I have to regularly walk along long lengths of rail platform covered in compacted snow and ice I find it hard to believe that this is in any way better for the end user. Personally I always wear military issue combat boots which have decent traction on most surfaces. Sheet ice causes problems but I rarely slip on the compacted snow. Watching other people in smooth leather soled slip ons shows that other people don't have it so easy.

About 15 minutes later I notice a train pull in behind me at platform 4. No announcement was made until the train was already at the platform. Take this last minute alteration alongside the state of the platforms and you have a scene reminiscent of a Japanese game show. 200 frozen commuters must walk 200 yards across ice to reach their train and then see how well they can convince people already on the train to sacrifice their personal space. No thanks. Annoyance three: last minute platform alterations. Are we supposed to believe that the control centre don't know which platform the trains are going to end up at? That they just can't be arsed to inform the station staff so that they can make an announcement? Or are the station staff up in the box waiting until the last minute to announce the change so they can get a laugh watching the chaos?

So after letting that train go, I decide that waiting on the platform is a bad idea. I make my way back to the footbridge and settle in midway between platforms 3 and 4. The boards show the next train arriving on 4, but I have lost all confidence. More and more people gather on 4 and I start to think I should get down there so I can be sure of squeezing on. I hold out on the bridge with a number of other people (there are enough of us waiting up there that there is little chance of people getting past and onto the platform). A few minutes after the train was due on platform 4 it finally shows up. On platform 2. Again the announcement is only made as the train is pulling into the station and the boards are updated at about the same time. My gamble paid off this time and I am one of the first couple of dozen down onto the platform. The train is already running full but there is enough room for me to squeeze on. I thought I was going to be one of the last but then some of the people from platform 4 arrive and decide enough is enough. There is a sudden push and I find myself propped at a 30 degree angle as my body is forced forward while my legs are stopped by some luggage in the aisle. I manage to retain my balance and after a couple of minutes people manage to jiggle about and while I am still pushed up against a metal pole, I am at least upright. One of the spearhead of shovers jokes "it will get better after Elstree"... which is about 6 stops away at this point.

After one of the most crowded train journeys I have had on an overground service (I have had worse on the underground though) I finally get off at St Albans only about half an hour later than usual. Which given that I left nearly 30 minutes early certainly isn't a good trip; however it isn't that bad either.

I have voluntarily let trains go past, so am not entitled to any compensation. I have heard that FCC may give 5 free trip scratch cards as a compensation measure when season ticket holders renew. There are not many details of this scheme available yet. Given that I am off to Australia on Jan 1st, and will not be renewing my season ticket until around the 20th, I doubt there will be much chance of seeing one of these cards.