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An open letter to Transport for London

December 3rd, 2010 2 comments

Dear Sir/Madam,

This morning I arrived at Clapham Junction station expecting to get on the 09:39 to Willesden Junction from Platform 17, and get off some minutes later at Shepherds Bush. I did not expect to leave, and arrive back at Clapham Junction on the same train nearly 3 hours later without having first reached my destination and alighted said train. What transpired is what I can only describe as a comedy of errors. What I would like from you is an explanation detailing why your team was so incapable of providing communication to the several hundred stranded customers aboard the “service”.

So what happened to make me so irate as to write this open letter? I’ll start at the top:

About 5 minutes into our journey, the train came to a halt. It was at approximately 09:55 that we had our first intercom announcement, 6 minutes after should have been at Imperial Wharf, and around the same time as we should have been leaving West Brompton: “I apologise for the delay to your journey. The train has a power failure and we’re trying to fix it.” OK, but you’ve already been sat here a while knowing you had a power failure, and we now know there is a problem, but not what you’re doing to resolve it, and if you can’t, what you have to do to get someone else to resolve it.

In the next few minutes we heard how you still had a power failure, but your guard and driver knew how to fix it and we should be on the way shortly. After which we moved about 10 metres forward, and then about 15 back. Wonderful. We were on the way, but in the wrong direction. You can see the funny side to all of this, can’t you?

Some significant period of radio silence later and we were duly informed that the on-board staff had indeed not been able to resolve the power issue and that we were now waiting for an assistance train to arrive. It would turn up in about 15 minutes. So, when it turned up 35 minutes later, we were ecstatic. We were told “the assistance train is here now, so we should be on the way soon”. “Soon”, it seems, is relative according to TfL.

“This is your guard. The assistance train has broken down behind us.” That was another half an hour after it first turned up. This is now getting beyond the initial laugh and joke that it once was. An hour and a half into a 20 minute journey and we’d had 4 pieces of communication. You can imagine my indignation when, on passing through the train, the guard duly informed us that the driver had left with the other train which was now fixed. “So we don’t have a driver on this train, and we’re stuck somewhere between Clapham Junction and Imperial Wharf?”. “No.”. Great. Now what?

Well, now what is that it gets worse. We’re now about 2 hours in, and in 40 minutes we’ll be back in Clapham Junction, to start our respective journeys again. And so far we’ve had 6 official communications and one unofficial one that just upset us more than anything. One of which was “there is too much snow on the line”. Really? Sheffield has invisible tracks due to the volume of snow and still has an operational tram and train service. We have this. When we did get back to Clapham Junction, we were told not that there was excess snow on the line, but that the live rail had iced over. Oh, so what you tell your customers is a bunch of fibs too then? Amusing, I think not.

I did eventually get to my target destination 3 and a half hours later. Given that you charge me to use your service, I have a right mind to charge you for my time: £700 + VAT.

I’ll leave it to you to dig yourself out of the mess you have invariably got yourselves into through profit-mongering cost cutting measures, and thank you in advance for your prompt reply. Oh, one last thing: You’re running a train on “production ready” software with a version of 0.3.5. I’ll ask you to think that one through again.

Kind Regards,

Tom Simnett

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