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My experience recently went like this. I had a job interview in London, to which I needed to travel from Devon. I checked train times, and found that the earliest train arrival was 08:49 into Paddington. I agreed an interview time of 09:45 as the location of the interview is 30 minutes by tube from Paddington, and my past experience of this early train is that it is generally 5-10 minutes late due to volume of trains waiting for platforms at Paddington, and I did not want to be rushed.
On arrival at my local train station at 6am (for a 6:25 train) I noticed that the departures board showed all eastbound trains somewhat delayed - all around 20 mins. Two earlier scheduled, but slower trains were still waiting to depart. I therefore asked at both the ticket office and the station manager whether I should board the first departing slow train, or wait for the 'fast' service I was booked on. Both said that the delays were due to over-running engineering works and all 3 would be 20 mins late, so first to my destination was still the fast train.
Fine I thought. I waited, and watched the other 2 trains depart. As the second one pulled out of the station - the delay time suddenly changed on the board! My train was now expected 30 minutes late. By the time it actually departed it was 40 mins behind, then when we passed Taunton, it was an hour late. No information was given on boards, until the ticket collector came round after Taunton (next stop Reading, so chance to change trains). He informed me that we were now expected in London an hour and a half late as we had 'lost our place' in the train queue and one of our engines had failed.
I know my rights under the passenger charter...
Okay, so now I had to rearrange an interview, quite possibly affecting my chances of getting this job. Not the fault of the people that day, so I thought I would take it up with First Group customer services. I sent some rather angry feedback via their website and after only 3 days, received a response. A completely stock response, "Sorry to hear you are unhappy, we will refund the single journey ticket price." I know my rights under the passenger charter, and had already requested a refund through the website where I booked the ticket. What I had asked for and didn't receive, was some detail on what the company had actually learned from this incident and what they are going to do about changing things for the better. A pretty standard practice nowadays in dealing with feedback.
What I received next was a list of the train company's wonderful achievements. Reliability up, trains on time and prices cut!! It as if this was calculated specifically to annoy me. I am not sure exactly what factoring is done to produce this complete rubbish, but I believe that trains which are less than and hour late don't even count towards the company failure rate. So a train that is 55 minutes late is negligible to them! Am I the only person who believes that on time should mean ON TIME?
I am still awaiting a response again from First Great Western, to see if anything has been learnt from this experience - but I don't hold out great hopes. I am an environmentally conscious person and would prefer to use train travel for business (I can't afford it for personal travel these days). But the complete lack of reliability of the train service providers means that unless I have a number of hours lee-way for delays, it is not a viable method of travel.
I have written to my MP about this in the hopes that the government (who supposedly want us to go green and use cars less, and who still subsidise our railways to the tune of many millions of pounds a year) might re-nationalise our railways and sack the current batch of incompetents who run them at the moment.