SOFT RIOT

For a few weeks I was wondering when I’d break in this blog for the “first post” for this ominous looking and sounding year that is 2012. I had a few things in mind but sort of got lost for well over a month, side-lined by the realities of modern living including things like moving house, engaging in new places of employment and returning to my former home city over the holidays to further confuse myself to which city — the former or the current — is actually “home”. Oh, and I bought a cool oriental fan for $12.00 CAD.

It seems that my problems with a local rail provider would be worthy of this first post. As I’ve moved, my transport links have changed and I’ve had to make numerous journeys on an overground rail line that services parts of London I go regularly such as Hackney and The City. It has been no source of joy in my life, but you can read the full complaint letter I sent myself to the provider below:

Dear Personnel of National Express East Anglia,

My name is Jack Duckworth, a resident of Walthamstow, and I am writing you today regarding the bizarre, flippant spasms of activity that you publicly refer to as the Liverpool Street to Chingford line of your National Express East Anglia service. I guess you can say this is a complaint letter; one that I’ve been avoiding writing as I’m quite a busy man and feel it should only really come to a point of great distress that I should write such a letter. Well look, here I am… writing this letter.

I have recently relocated my place of residence to Walthamstow and have looked to rely on your London Liverpool Street to Chingford service as a fast and easy service to points in Hackney and The City. This service is scheduled to run every 15 minutes at the same times on the hour, every day Monday through Friday from any given station.

However, much to my confusion and astonishment, this service has not delivered on what I casually estimate as 35-40% of the time. I have arrived at stations in Walthamstow, Clapton and Hackney Downs to find trains delayed by at least 5-10 minutes or more, or even cancelled for reasons totally unbeknownst to myself, and upon my inquiry, to members of staff themselves. Notable extreme examples include a 25 minute delay (!) at Hackney Downs at approximately 9am on January 10th and a number of occasions at Walthamstow Central in the evening where the trains to Liverpool Street have been cancelled for cryptic reasons of “signal failure” with no further explanation or no prior warning.

Another example was a southbound train from Hackney Downs on December 14th at around the hour of 11pm. The display had stated the incoming time of the southbound train and then had stated all trains were cancelled. This cancellation was announced on the loudspeaker with no reason provided except to call an information number. I dialled this number and the pre-recorded message told me to call back during business hours, of which I forget now as at that moment my energies were mainly focused on quelling a brewing rage in the dumb, looming shadows of transportation incompentence.
The instances I’ve mentioned above were the most extreme in a somewhat more lengthy list of examples of poor train service.

Let’s assess the London Liverpool Street to Chingford line. It’s train that runs on quite a short length of track consisting of approximately 10 stops from end to end. I’ve taken the train from end to end and it’s about 25 minutes or so from what I remember. Aside from minor gradients in the track there are no challenging obstacles or features in this length or track; no obstacles which might actually vary train service: obstacles such as an insurgency of armed rebels obstructing track, sections of track running through sluggish quicksand or sections of track that may resemble sections of a rollercoaster (ie: a “loop the loop”) that one would find at a fun fair or carnival, which would obviously add an unpredictable element to the service and thus rightfully delay the service.

The usual reasons for delay are vague and non-eventful at that such as “signal failure” or “adverse weather conditions” (read: “light rain”) or in some cases, “an on-going situation at XXXX station.
I can already predict a likely reply to this letter, and one “justifying” the poor service. It would be one stating that the trains or sections of track are old and need upgrading or some other pre-written bureaucratic stock answers that underpaid customer service agents will spend mind-numbing hours copying and pasting into countless reply emails. Considering the UK pays some of the highest fares in Europe — and to which one occasion a European colleague of mine had with tact referred to as “highway robbery” — it’s an extremely tall drink of nasty liquid that one has to ingest to side with that reasoning. Where is all of this money going?

What is even more frightening, or tragically hilarious — depending on what way you look at it — is that we are six to seven months away from the 2012 Olympics; an event that requires London to allow itself to become fat and uncomfortably bloated with the addition of at least five million people (estimated figures). And with this train service, as well as notable other examples throughout the London transportation network, coasting into this massive event on the same quality of service to me is the equivalent of a stereotypical dope-smoking teenager coasting along in cannabis-induced bliss, right until that moment he needs to pick up the phone and order one massively large, Olympic-size pizza and failing to even do that when going into mad panic seconds after picking up the phone.

I can already imagine the blind rage of commuters during those patience-testing two weeks as massively enlarged body of population attempts to smoothly use this service as it’s current level of quality. The biggest spectacles I can assure you wont be at the stadium or track, but at tube and rail stations themselves as angry commuters create new sports of their own such as synchronised turnstile hurdling, Oyster Card discus, the 100m platform dash, inner carriage boxing and much more. Perhaps all of these events would revolve around the “Olympic Flame” of burning effigies of Boris Johnson, who the public identify as the face and mouth of TFL. A man with all the charm and charisma of a soft, perspiring potato.

Anyway, I’m sure as you can tell by my tirade expressed the numerous paragraphs aboves there are serious faults to your service which you’ll need to pick up the slack on in terms of efficiency to validate the amount one spends in fares. In the meantime it’s a bit of a farce to say the least.

As I’m sure most of your staff are familiar with the popular animated sitcom “The Simpsons”, I’d like to conclude this letter with words that would like be quoted by that curmudgeonly, unshaven and borderline shapeless character we all know as “Comic Book Guy”:

“Worst. Train Service. Ever.”

Yours Sincerely,
Jack Duckworth