Wednesday 24 August 2016

Stress 3

 Short-Notice Station Stampede 

It used to be  quite seemly at Euston, especially for longer distance services. There was a waiting room ...
... of grandeur and opulence; but the rest of the station was a dark and dingy warren of disconnected and unfathomable platforms. In 1968 Her Maj opened the new Euston.
It was an open marbled concourse with no waiting room as such.
And no seats!

It was no longer opulent but intended to convey something of the clinical efficiency of the newly electrified main lines. But as the years passed those distinctive roof pillars each acquired a "retail unit" ...
Now we all know that making money out of shop rentals is more important than passenger comfort and ease of movement, so Euston has recently gained a whole new mezzanine floor of "food outlets" ...
... complete with the obligatory non-working escalator.
Some of the concourse units have gone, however. Somewhere underneath the new deck is the entrance to the Underground ...
... which used to have a huge and very visible cube to show you the way.
Also under the mezz deck is a Visitor Centre ...
... seemingly ill-equipped to deal with visitors if the huge queue out of the door ...
... and way along the outside of the "unit" was anything to go by. Is that where you queue for "information" or ...
... perhaps here. And buying a ticket?
That's right over the other side and apparently on an upper floor. Don't worry, it isn't really upstairs.

But to the main point of this third stress blog.

The fbb's train was due away at 1030. At 1015 we were told that boarding would start at 1012 ...
... which then changed to Boarding "shortly".

At 1020 platform 13 was announced and approximately three million people surged from concourse to train and began fighting for their reserved seats. Unfortunately the electronic reservations labels were not switched on until 1025 by which time the train was packed solid. Chaos ensued which reigned until the train sped through Watford Junction station. 

Just before departure, the fbbs' seats were still piled high with luggage because Pendolini are not designed for people who are staying anywhere. In the fbb's coach was a party of youff who were going on a camping holiday in the Lake District. Each of the young people was associated with a rucksack of mountainous proportions, none of which would fit in any designated luggage space.
Further consternation ensued when a member of the train staff battled through, informing people that luggage could not be left in corridors or doorways for safety reasons.

By Tring, most people had found a seat, often clutching their mountainous luggage to their heaving and exhausted breast. But apparently such an asphyxiating sedentary cloggage is much safer than piling a few loads across a door (off-side) which wouldn't be used until a much emptier train arrived in Glasgow.

Just behind the driver's cab is a luggage van, but ...

Railway travel? Stressful? Never!

And talking of safety. fbb ventured to the "shop" for a cup of cardboard tea for himself and the Mrs.
Between the sales display (left) and the counter, blocking half the width and just where the queue was queuing was a large yellow crate and a large heap of  "sticks" of cardboard cups.

Passengers may not block gangways but Virgin staff are free to do so, just where folk might be staggering about with hot beverages as their world Pendolinoes tilt-wise.

Dear Mr Branson and/or Mr Souter;
Please provide some luggage space that is big enough for luggage and find a better place to stow shop stock.
And please let people get on your trains in time to fight for their seats.
And switch the reservation signs on before the people get on!
Maybe even ask you staff to show common sense rather than wittering on about safety.
Thank you.

But the journey was spot on time with gorgeous views of the Lake District ...
... and the beautiful hills of South West Scotland.
But de-stressing in Largs was soon underway.

 Next de-stress blog : Thursday 25th August 


  1. You missed the best game at Euston which is to announce about five minutes before the scheduled departure time –

    “Please join the train now (emphasized) as it is about to leave.”

    If anything is designed to start a stampede it is that. I hope I am wrong but Euston is an accident waiting to happen especially for those of us going down the ramp to Platforms 8, 9, 10 and 11.

  2. Andrew Kleissner24 August 2016 at 08:13

    Perhaps one might wish to link fbb's comments with the alleged and well-reported woes of Mr. Corbyn, admittedly not on the same line?

  3. Euston is an entirely different experience if using first class. Unlike their cousins on the East Coast, access to the lounge is possible with cheap advanced purchase tickets, while the stroll to the train is so much easier when your carriage is at the buffer stop end. And of course there are free refreshments and wifi both at the lounge and on board (and you can use the lounge at the destination station too).
    Advance purchase first class return fares from Axminster to Largs start at £68.65, then step up by around £3.50 as each tranche of these limited number tickets sell out.

  4. The whole reality of train travel is a very stressful enigma. Trains always seem busy and one sits/stands there observing other people, wondering how much they paid for their tickets, whether they got a 'good deal' and whether you paid more than you could have done, not knowing all the tips and tricks needed to get a cheap (reasonable?) fare. Yet when the trains are this busy, logic surely suggests that the train operators could, in theory, keep charging even more until demand drops....

    Buying train tickets is like participating in a game where you have been told some of the rules but not all of them.

  5. Stress 3: What’s new! As an apprentice in the mid 1970s I would arrive at Kings Cross for the 18:12 Friday relief train to Newcastle at about 18:05 and often join the back of the scrum for the platform gate to be opened. Then it was run for it. Being at the back of the scrum you ran the length of the train, but trying to get a seat was usually not worth queuing for. My normal plan was to reach the front luggage compartment first and grab the corner out of the draught. Sitting on my bag for 4 hours to York with reasonable space was not bad. As a leg stretch I would walk all the way back to the buffet and join the buffet queue about a coach length before the buffet car. You could pass the time chatting to people sitting on the tables. In the buffet car the doorways were obstructed with floor to ceiling stacks of beer, Tartan or Newcastle brown; the buffet soon sold nothing else.

    Sunday afternoon return was a more civilised squash, but too often passed Lincoln or Ely Cathedrals.

    Stress 1: For any journey planning / ticket purchase, I use my favourite website (Great Western) for the fare / train matrix display and then check with the main operators own website. Using the avoid/via option can be informative, but takes knowledge or guess work.

    Stress 2: I always slightly distrust third party info and often check with the primary suppliers own info. London rarely gives an alternative route as it swamps the suggested route and is often inappropriate for many customer’s overall journey; there are just so many alternatives.

  6. It does seem as though the Lords of the Iron Road had conspired against fbb for this trip!

    Stress 1: As your correspondent above, I have a set method. I check on NRE, then go and speak to the fine staff of East Coast at Kings Cross. I have booked Sail & Rail tickets to Dublin and the Isle of Man, Caledonian Sleeper tickets and asked routing enquiries and never had an issue. Yes, there is a queue sometimes, but no, I have never wondered whether anybody else has paid less than I have.
    I cannot understand why the reservations were so complicated. With advance purchase they are usually compulsory, so get spat out at the same time as the ticket...

    Stress 2: I don't know Waterloo that well, but I am surprised fbb couldn't see an engineering works poster. They are usually very prominent (at Kings Cross, for example, it is right on the gate line). The closed section is coloured to make it more obvious, otherwise you may lose an uncoloured part in the mass of other colours. Replacement buses are not provided within central London due to the vast number of regular services: a walk to Waterloo Bridge would have given the fbb's a choice of three bus routes right to Euston, and NRE usually allows an inordinate amount of change time anyway.
    I didn't reply yesterday, simply because I couldn't believe a gentleman of fbb's travelling calibre would not know any closure on the underground is a major problem! (to quote a colleague yesterday: I avoid the tube even if it says minor delays, because you know it will be busy). There are also regular announcements at most stations and on trains: maybe fbb missed them.

    Stress 3: Euston does have seats... else I'm imagining them! The signage is no worse than, say, an airport, and is actually very clear. I managed to work my way around Birmingham New Street a few weeks ago, the first time I'd been, by signs alone.

    Virgin not having the reservations up is unusual, and has never happened to me. But anyone on an advance ticket has their reservations printed, with their ticket. 15 minutes is usually ample to board... you only get 45 minutes on the Caledonian Sleeper, where you need to be checked off by name!

    1. There were no reservations at all on the Virgin West Coast train to London I used last week. Apparently they had "gone down" after leaving Glasgow. Everyone was being very civilised about it although the fact that there were more seats than passengers was helping. Announcements about the lack of reservations were made after departure from most stations, but it would have been more helpful if these could have been made on the platform before passengers boarded.

  7. Andrew Kleissner24 August 2016 at 17:40

    Some years ago we travelled from Ipswich to Edinburgh, changing to a (then) GNER service at Peterborough. When the train arrived it was packed - but no=one had nicked our seats.

    In the mid-70s there used to be a Euston- Glasgow train at around lunchtime. In those days it cost extra to reserve so I never did. The train was made up of Mk.3 stock except that, at the front, there was always a Mk.2e brake composite marshalled "the wrong way round" (I don't know why). Passengers coming through the train would encounter the guard's area and wrongly think, "There are no more seats" when in fact there was half a carriage-full ahead of them. I always had a comfortable journey!

  8. Andrew Kleissner24 August 2016 at 17:46

    My worst experience was on a heavily-delayed train from Norwich to London (due to engine failure). When we got to Liverpool Street it was a real struggle to get OFF as angry commuters were trying to surge ON. In this case it would have been better to have kept the barriers closed (although it may have been an open platform anyway).