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Rail Chaos

I had a meeting in Oxford on Tuesday, at a joint industry/academia forum that I’m a member of. As a city, it’s actively hostile to cars, and the university has very limited parking to offer visitors, so the most sensible option was to go by rail. The train was spot on time on the way out, so I got to my meeting in good time. It was a different matter on the way home.

I got to Oxford station to find the platforms absolutely heaving with very disgruntled people. It was the hottest day of the year so far, and the rails around Reading were barely coping. Lots of trains had been cancelled, and draconian speed limits had been brought in to prevent the rails from buckling, with the result that all the remaining trains were running horribly late. There was no sign of the train I’d planned on catching, but the previous one was about to turn up – running at that point 53 minutes late. It got as far as Charlbury, in the middle of the Cotswolds, and then stopped for far longer than usual. According to the very helpful and increasingly apologetic guard, this was so that the driver could remove a tree that was blocking the line! We then set off again, now running over 70 minutes late, until we got to Evesham. At that point progress just ground to a halt. Apparently, a set of points had got stuck outside Worcester Shrub Hill, and the signaller couldn’t get them to budge in either direction. The line is single track between Evesham and Worcester, so we were being held at the station, on the last bit of double-track line, until a solution could be found.

I could see the guard standing on the platform on the phone, trying to get some sense out of Great Western’s control room. To give her credit, she really did do her best to keep us updated, saying what she knew, whom she was talking to next, and what time she’d get back to us with an update. Unfortunately, she had no new information to give us – the points were still stuck, they were still trying to shift them, and in the mean time we were staying put. The taxi drivers of Evesham had a bumper evening, as loads of passengers decided they couldn’t or wouldn’t wait. Lots more were phoning home and making arrangements to be picked up. I had a supply of food and drink, and a book to read, so decided that I’d just sit it out. 

Eventually, the guard announced that the signaller had managed to get the points to move and that we were about to be on our way. But by then I had information that she didn’t have, or at the very least wasn’t telling us. I had the live train-time website up on my phone and I could see that, according to that source, the journey was “disrupted” as they so euphemistically put it – i.e. the train was going to be terminated at Worcester Shrub Hill, and wasn’t going to continue on to Malvern. According to the guard, however, everything was just fine, as we set off from Evesham towards Worcester – and then ground to a halt again just outside Shrub Hill station. After five minutes of no information, the (by now extremely apologetic) guard came over the tannoy to say that the Bristol train was at our platform, we were now waiting for it to vacate the platform so that we could use it. Another five minutes and she came back on the tannoy, having apparently just been told what I’d found out twenty minutes previously, namely that once we finally made it into Shrub Hill, it would be All Change as the train was going no further. I’m not sure that she could have sounded any more apologetic – but she also said that Shrub Hill was in such chaos that she’d been unable to find out any information about connecting trains to tell us, so would we all please just keep our ears open for announcements once we got there.

After ten minutes hanging around at Shrub Hill, the next train from London turned up. This was the one from Oxford that I’d originally meant to catch. It was running late itself, but even so had managed to nearly catch us up. We all piled onto it, only for that train itself to be abruptly cancelled – it would go as far as Worcester Foregate Street but no further, so everyone for stations beyond Worcester was to get off and wait on the platform for further instructions. There was a little group of us who all recognised each other vaguely from work – colleagues, ex-colleagues and one of my customers – so we all banded together, sharing what little information we had. Eventually, another train did finally turn up, and we all got on, arriving in Malvern two and a half hours late. I was absolutely shattered by the time I got home!

I was so glad I’d had some food and water with me, as otherwise it would have been extremely unpleasant. As it was, it was merely annoying and tedious. It is rather shocking though, how much disruption can be caused by what was really a very minor heat-wave. I’m sure that trains in Spain and Italy have to cope with such temperatures on a very regular basis. 

{ 1 } Comments

  1. pauld | 24 July 2016 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    sort of sums up why i’ve not used public transport in decades, not that there is much up here even if i had some weird desire to use it