It was December. I’d spent a day training in Edinburgh and the following day was doing a morning in Reading. Bad planning I know but all I had to do was take a train from Edinburgh to London then on to Reading and I’d make the hotel in time for a pizza and a beer. I’d booked in advance and found a first class advance ticket from Edi to Lon for just £31. I was looking forward to a pleasant journey and maybe a quality snack or two.
Things started badly. There was flooding in the air. I know it’s usually on the ground but we live in interesting times.
The booked train was cancelled. I took the following one and settled down to a slightly delayed journey but ultimately a stuffed crust and a kronenbourg. Then we arrived at Darlington. The floods meant that we had to sit still for 3 hours. It wasn’t much fun. The relief train crew from Newcastle, contrary to all expectations, had forgotten to load the pies so first class refreshments were down to cans of speckled hen and Dolmen peanuts. They were free which did ease the pain.
Further delays as we were re routed meant a very late arrival in London. As the clock ticked round to midnight I started to get worried. Tubes would stop; most busses would stop; I suppose there would be taxis but would Paddington be open this late…
Out of the blue at 0115 in the morning as we crawled though north London an announcement came over the tannoy. “Passengers needing assistance for their onward journey should contact East Coast staff at Kings Cross who would help with taxis.”
I walked through the train to get to coach M so I was first off and strode boldly up to an East Coastie.
“Where are you going to sir?”
“Follow me sir”
Minutes later I was in a large taxi with 5 other fellow travellers sliding westwards through slick rain covered streets. My companions were going to Ealing, Heathrow and other points west but I was the Marathon man so I snickered silently to myself.
Eventually at 3am we arrived at my hotel. For the last 30 minutes I chatted to the driver and he set out a wonderful life enjoyed by London mini cab drivers on the evenings when trains were delayed. They knew from experience and watching the media when the pickings would be rich. When they arrived at the terminus they would have no idea where they would end up but they knew it was a large guaranteed fare.
My driver said he’d done Kings Cross to Portsmouth; Victoria to Leeds, Kings Cross to Bath. The best nights were when Eurostar was delayed. He’d once has a trip to Edinburgh from St Pancras. He didn’t tell me the exact meter reading but the phrase “Four figures guv” said a lot. Some weeks in the winter he did two or three nights like this.
It had been a full train due to the earlier cancellations. There had been standing in first class. I estimated several hundred grumpy and tired passengers had disembarked at Kings Cross and been squeezed in to taxis to finish their journeys. Even with 5 in a taxi at least 100 taxis had been used on that train at £200 a taxi. I wonder how much that cost?
They also refunded the cost of the ticket as it was waaaaaaaaay over their expected arrival. I expect the other several hundred passengers had theirs refunded as well.
Contrast that with the 1703 north from Kings Cross on an equally cold and wet day in February. I’d done another day’s training and was looking forward to my first class offering. (Senior rail card otherwise I’d be in second err…standard class).
The complimentary glass of alcohol. OK. The complimentary peanuts. OK. The hot dish was a disappointment. Fish & Chips. Nonetheless I ordered it.
A four inch fish and with 6 square cut chips beautifully arranged three on top of three others. I looked at it for too long before eating as the waiter asked if I was alright.
“A bit small isn’t it?”
“You can have another afterwards if you want Sir, we’re not busy today”
I declined. There was cheese & biscuits to follow or so I thought.
Wrong. Like the Filet ‘o’ Fish I had just eaten it was a load of pollocks.
“Cheese is on the 1733 Sir”
So there you have it. Phenomenal customer service on a late running train at enormous expense. Very poor first class food on the 1703. Who decides how this train company spends its money? Whose money is it anyway? Would an FOI request elicit this information? If it was a public body we could find out.
Hang on a minute….