Trainmaggeddon: The Horror Story That Is English Public Transport

I really believe in public transport — honestly I feel that it should work, should be as good and convenient (and easy) as jumping in a car. It’s also often more relaxing, scenic and central than sitting in traffic jams for hours on end or boring motorways.

However the infrastructure is groaning and just isn't working any more. Customers seemed to be pumped for more and more money to feed an infrastructure which isn’t working and doesn’t cope. This week is a case in point. On Friday there was an incident, which caused my train home to be an hour late. I’d left work earlier — I got to see a lot of a station platform! On Saturday there was a storm which brought a tree on the line and flooding and caused chaos, leading me to run around cancelling plans. On Monday, there was a landslip which has led to utter abysmal apocalyptic scenes until who knows when? Maybe Sunday? Today there was a fire by the line somewhere…. What next? Plague of frogs? And so I find myself cancelling again, and like the English transport system — slowing to a halt in the sidings and going nowhere. (Atleast, this weekend).

Aggressive Unhelpful Tannoy Announcements

Somehow from the delayed signs of doom with one train running (thank you Cross Country!) to get me to work somehow on time, I’ve now started getting an earlier morning train to avoid all the lateness, cancellations and etc etc. Staff are playing a posh annoying tannoy voice who apologises insincerely. Of themselves, staff are not visible or making announcements — certainly in Winchester. One of them has the tannoy somewhere as they shrilly bark at an increasingly crowded platform (2 Colleges’ worth of students trying to get home plus commuters) to get back behind the yellow line, without offering any information about what is going on. Times were showing on Monday for trains, which then disappeared to delayed — without explanation. And no explainers were to be found unless you hunted them down — and even then, poor ticket booth person didn’t really know but could guestimate….


What is a 17 minute journey of a 45–50 minute commute door to door now takes me 2 hours. I’m doing 11–12 hour days including fragmented travel — either hanging around waiting without information, or going to the nearest station (hurrah for Portsmouth trains) and then walking to get a bus because the next train is a hour away. How is any of this good enough for the amount we pay? How is any of this the best use of my time? I just feel like I’m being pushed into driving lessons and ownership of a car — the alternatives just aren’t working any more. I’ve already tried to avoid local buses by walking as much as I can — just couldn’t deal with nearly missing my train connections due to late or very slow moving, lingering at empty stops buses any more. It was easier and just as fast to walk — though not convenient.

Get Out of The Way!

What could make things better? Station and platform staff themselves? Many station staff are often badly positioned — blocking barriers and timetables, blocking access to train doors and generally doing their best to appear as unfriendly and unapproachable as possible, or having a jolly social amongst themselves spread across the platform as you circuit their group to get onto the train you need. Indeed some can appear actively aggressive, enjoying whipping already anxious commuters up into a frenzy by positioning trains as far away as possible (across a platform bridge) on strike days or barking out the decreasing minutes you have before your train shuts the doors and sails away without you.

I Feel Pretty

Smarter stations. Big stations such as Manchester or London stations are very smart indeed — with facilities, seating and even activities (Christmas choirs and art). Why can’t medium stations be more like them? I’m sure I’ll engender station loving howls of protest — but this isn’t about the good ones with lovable staff, the Railway Children of modern times. It’s about the lack of facilities — closed or very damaged toilets (generally women’s), poor to no seating, dismal surroundings, hard to navigate information apart from scrolling screens, a baffling ticketing system which makes the time when most people have to travel (i.e. for work or school) the most expensive and where tickets are hard to update, convert, refund or add to (i.e. if you change the time you want to travel) apart from at a high cost — i.e. another ticket or a huge admin fee. Why can’t stations generally (the medium sized ones and city centre ones) be more like nicer airport lounges? Where is the sense of welcome and indeed swish — the adventure of travel?

We Were Made For Something More

Southampton Central is a case in port. It’s streamlined outside hints at ports and ocean going liners. Instead of going full Art Deco, Poirot or even 1950 diner chic inside — it is concretey, grey, overcrowded, facilities are overpriced (and unhealthy), and horribly faded and dirty. There aren’t enough seats, it leaks (though not as much as Winchester), the toilets can be horrible, and given how many people pass through to ocean going liners, I wonder what impression they get. Apart from falling out onto traffic logged roads through a sea of smokers implies more of the same. Coloured windows and a mosaic don’t cheer it up. The lifts are a mystery hard to find and navigate! And in winter the sheer smart paving infront or possibly the back of the station is lethal (and badly lit); only the bit infront of the doors seemed to have been salted/gritted. If you cross from the junction (i.e. are not in a car) you have to skate across ice (in the murk). But it looks pretty!

Winchester has better views but can also be incredibly crowded, leading to pushing and the aforementioned tannoy bellowing. There are many more seats. The facilities seem personable but the toilets are often closed and the ongoing lack of information from the bellowing tannoy is unfortunate, not to say irritating. Better information, and rather than the incessant scrolling screens and insincere apologies, visible platform staff in smart office wear who actually look happy to help and have the information to help you. The polyester look plus the tabard does them no favours. I know they can’t know everything — but the basics, the major trains of the day. Surely they should be a bit like train spotters and have a clue? (Rather than doing what I could do and look it up online?) Abolish leaflets for online things — use roving iPads or the like to demo how to do this — (with a few leaflets but not so many for those who really don’t want to online). A bit like roving person in a bank who can annoying/helpful! The leaflet handover feels more like a go away signal than I want to help you.

Eastleigh, like Winchester hints at faded architectural glory. It is also a happy haunt of train spotters. It has art, it can feel quite charming, there are lots of nearby facilities. It also has the pedestrian walk of death if you attempt to walk the very short walk to Lidls. Clearly designed for car owners only you are forced (in the dark) to cross very fast and busy roads without proper pedestrian crossings. If you survived hurling yourself across all of those, then you falter across infront of a roundabout. If the feeder roads don’t get you and you aren’t parked on going through the car park, you get a Lidl. And once you’ve shopped, you have to survive it all again to get back to the train. Which is a shame because I really like Eastleigh, even though its platforms are a bit of a warren. (Sort of like a small prototype Clapham Junction, but cuter!)

Oldey Worldly Vibes

Make like Bath and ramp up the architectural vibes. Make travel fun again. Majority of trains are dirty, soiled, overcrowded and a good day is getting a window you can see out of, a socket and a seat. Make the seats a seat one person can comfortably sit on rather than fighting the person next to you for the arm rest or being sat on by your 1.5 companion (or their coats, bags, elbows, laptop etc). Make travel charming again! (and with healthy, affordable facilities).

Respect the Frontline Workers Who Get The Job Done

Tho I jest and bewail, I have deep respect for those railway staff who do an excellent job, who get the job done and do help people everyday, who face abuse and yet turn up and help again. I don’t believe that the public should abuse people who are trying to do their jobs — I do want justice for Belly Mujinga and her family (and the others she represents). I respect those who do try to help.


But the current chaos isn’t enough. Since the UK Lockdowns highlighted how much public transport users are held in contempt and treated as fourth class citizens, well it’s been more of the same. An example would be the savage Stagecoach bus cuts to community services in Cambridgeshire. Why can’t England be more like Scotland, which is actively (and thoughtfully) reviving its local railway network again? Why should a car be needed (rather than 2 trains, a taxi and maybe a bus — none of which connect easily) to get to beautiful places like the New Forest or Keswick? Whilst I don’t want the smashing of HS2, surely local transport could be better — without the general malaise of trains arriving 5 to 10 minutes after the bus has gone, and a 20–30 minute wait in the dark ensues? Or being dropped off at a closed facility coach station with no taxi rank and a walk in the dark to the nearest bus stop/taxis?

Why can’t train stations and trains (even coach stations) make us actually want to leave our cars at home because there is something better out there? (A: Trams!)

*Disclaimer — even train apocalypse can lead to cheerful commuter chats of share camaraderie!)



By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....

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Susan Tailby

By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....