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Dealing with disruption, again

27 July 2010

Heading home from Manchester to Tooting, South West London.

It is a mark of how reliable the service has become that I allow about five minutes leeway for this three hour, one train, two tube journey. So I get on the 12.15pm from Manchester Piccadilly. I’m settled comfortably at a table (necessary for happiness) in Coach E, and facing the direction of travel (also necessary for happiness). Air conditioning working well. All set for getting some work done on the journey back.

We roll into Macclesfield a few minutes later. There is then what I can only describe as a problem silence. Train sits, doors open, nothing happens. As the minutes tick by, there is a mounting sense of foreboding. The tannoy crackles into life. ‘Signal failure’ – the curse of rail passengers. We are going to have to reverse to Stockport, so the driver changes ends and we are off again. Fellow passengers fall about and curse as if struck by disaster – again a sign of how reliable the service has become.

So we chug back to Stockport where we are then met with the hammer blow – all off! Train cancelled, we will have to get on the next one. Being summer time, there are lots of families, older passengers and luggage - this looks messy. There is not enough staff visible to help as we all cross over the platform. I try and judge where Coach E will arrive.

The tannoy then crackles into life again. The next train coming, the 1.19pm, has been ‘de-classified’. It would help if the announcers spoke plain English sooner rather than later but a translation follows – first class is all second class. Seasoned travellers try unobtrusively to shuffle to the end of the platform, possibly so as not to alert fellow passengers to the fact that they know where first class is.

We all pile on.

There are a few people standing in corridors but we get under way. Only one guard visible on the train and no effort made to find people seats. The most knowledge person was the young female Eastern European cleaner who worked through the train and very capably answered questions about compensation forms (none on the train it appears – Virgin used to be good at this...). ‘Do we stop at Milton Keynes?’, ‘ Is the trolley coming through?’ - someone should promote her.

I don’t recall anyone saying sorry. All anyone wants when things go wrong are two things: to understand that someone is in charge and that they care. On this occasion Virgin was represented by the lowest paid person on the train who simply by being human calmed things down.

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