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Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 15:55 GMT
I'm Jon - your rail champion
Jon Yuill: Your not-for-profit commuters' champ
This week the bogeyman of Britain's railways, Railtrack, will be laid to rest. Just the right moment, then, to unveil BBC News Online's new Rail Commuters' Champion.

There's one thing commuters have in spades that the rest of us envy them for - reading time.

In the 20 years that Jon Yuill has been travelling to London from his home in Essex, a short poem by the American journalist Elwyn Brooks White has lodged itself in his mind.

    Commuter - One who spends his life
    In riding to and from his wife;
    A man who shaves and takes a train
    And then rides back to shave again.

Jon Yuill
BBC News Online Rail Commuters' Champion
  • Name: Jon Yuill, married with three children
  • Age: 41
  • Occupation: Advertising art director
  • Commute: Witham (Essex) to London Liverpool St
  • Biggest gripe: Overcrowding of trains and unreliability
  • Small things would make it better: Better seating, more communication
  • Philosophy: 'It's a quality of life issue, not a life and death matter'

  • But that's only half the story, says Jon, who regularly does battle with delays, strikes, dirty trains, queues, standing room only, missed connections and all the other headaches that commuters must now endure.

    Jon is BBC News Online's newly-crowned Rail Commuters' Champion - more than 3,000 users of this site took part in the vote to select him.

    The 41-year-old father-of-three hopes to give a voice to the thousands of down-trodden and often overlooked rail travellers who use Britain's trains every day.

    He takes up the challenge at what could be a crucial time for the future of the railways. This week Railtrack, the beleaguered owner of the railways, is being wound up in the courts.

    In its place will come Network Rail. Unlike its predecessor, Network Rail will not be run for profit but - and this is the theory, at least - in the best interests of rail passengers such as Jon (who, incidentally, is an not-for-profit, or unpaid, champion).

    The new company has a lot to crack on with, says Jon, who has seen his quality of life suffer as the railways have lurched from disaster to crisis.

    Network Rail logo
    Railtrack's successor will arrive this week
    "A lot has changed in my 20 years of commuting. There are more hurdles, as I like to call them: the drive to the station, the fight for a parking space, the daily game of chance in getting a seat.

    "Also, when I started, I was a passenger. Now I'm known as a 'customer'. It's a ridiculous affectation. Customers tend to have a choice. We don't."

    Jon's daily journey is typical of that taken by many commuters.

    Starting from his home in Maldon, Essex, he drives to the station at Witham where he takes the First Great Eastern Line into London Liverpool Street, before jumping on the Tube to reach his office in Holborn, in the capital's West End.

    On a good day the whole trip takes about 1 hour 45 minutes. But it frequently takes twice as long.

    Thomas the Tank Engine's Fat Controller
    Jon will be shouting from the sidelines
    "Why do I do it? I was born in Maldon, I love the place, I want to bring up my children there but I can't work locally. I choose to commute because however bad it gets, there's always my dear old town waiting at the end of the day."

    It's not a cheap option - Jon pays 294 a month to go by train, which works out to about 13 a day. And there are plenty of frustrations.

    "Simply getting a seat - overcrowding is a massive problem in the mornings and rush-hour home. Reliability is the second big headache. Hardly a week goes by which isn't marred by signal failure, train failure or something called 'operating difficulties'."


    Obviously big issues need to be addressed by rail bosses, but a lot could also be achieved by changing the small things, says Jon.

    Seating is an example - in the trains the seats are too tight - "designed by a team of dwarves for a workforce of hobbits" - to be comfortable; at Liverpool Street, one of London's main termini, there are just a few dozen seats to fight over if trains are delayed.

    Commuters wait for delayed train
    "Tell us what's going on!"
    Communication, or lack of it, is another irritation.

    "Time and again we spell it out for them: 'tell us what's going on!' But often you're left milling around, frantically trying to locate your train, which platform it will arrive at."

    And when they do come, "you sometimes can't understand them. There's one guy at Liverpool Street who sounds like Ian Paisley with a mouthful of wasps. I mean it's difficult enough as it is."

    "Turning round the railways is like turning a giant oil tanker," says Jon. "I know I'm not going to manage something on that scale. But small things would make a big difference and I want to use this role to highlight that fact and see if we can get a few important things changed."

    Later this week, Jon will be announcing his 10-point plan on small things that could make a big difference to rail commuters.

    But if you want to make a suggestion, e-mail him using the form below.

    Some of your comments so far:

    Jon, congratulations on becomming our rail champ. Please remember the passengers that are also cyclists. Cycling is an important factor in improving transport in this country but the rail companies are doing their best to drive the cyclist off their trains.
    Pepe, UK

    Small changes to planning would make a difference. I travel against the traffic from North Dulwich to Croydon. However, the trains in my direction between 0800 and 0900 are all eight carriages and virtually empty, the ones towards London Bridge are four carriages and rammed. Why?
    Chris, UK

    Hi Jon, congratulations. I commute from Brighton to London every day, so kind of similar in length to your journey. I cycle to the station, put then bike on the train then off at Clapham Junction then cycle to Wandsworth. They are fazing out the slam door trains and replacing then with sliding doors trains which make no allocation for bikes which I, and a great deal other people find stunning considering the stated "integrated transport" policy - Please can you try to push the cause of space for bikes?
    Tim, UK

    Jon's definitely right about better communication and better seating being easy ways for the operating companies to improve journeys. Thames Trains, whilst dire in other areas, got an excellent information system into service early on - it makes delays much more bearable when you're given accurate estimates of how long you're going to have to wait. Similarly, a few companies (Chiltern, Anglia) have realised when ordering new trains that narrow seats don't give more capacity, because people like their elbow- and leg-room and won't easily give up an empty seat next to them.
    Rupert Candy, UK

    1. I'm 5'1'' and if I'm standing I can't reach the bars - which means I fall over! Lower bars please!
    2. Do something about Walkmans. I don't want to sit next to someone all the way who has drum and bass on so loud it could be heard in the drivers carriage! good luck with the job, it should be fun :-)
    Victoria , UK

    Setting up a group of "average" people to test the room and comfort of new seating arrangements in trains
    Glen Dersley, UK

    One of things which bugs me, is when the train stops mid journey for 20-30 minutes or so and you just sit there waiting until it starts again. No appologies, no reasons given! It would be nice to know at least why this happens.
    Andy Banks, Buckinghamshire, UK

    My suggestions: 1. like in Germany and Japan, details of the platform the train will use in the timetable or web site, cutting out the guesswork when you get to the station.
    2. a national rail card.
    3. standardised rail products - eg re-introduction of the InterCity and Regional Express brands. Scrap the proliferation of names and logos.
    4. Standard nationwide groups of fares to match.
    5. Standard national policy on compensation, fares, bikes, smoking and bank holiday arrangements.
    6. Automatic on-board refunds where the train is more than one -hour late.
    Nicholas Stone, United Kingdom

    The excuse "the 7:55 train is running 20 minutes late owing to the late running of a previous train," is NOT an excuse but a consequence. Tell the truth - WHY was the other train late?
    Stuart Woodward, UK

    Train companies could solve a lot of overcrowding problems by turning some of their first class carriages into standard ones. On Midland Mainline, at least half of the train is taken up by these things with hardly anyone in them, whilst the rest of us cram in the remaining carts. Take it to the man, Jon!
    Raj Champaneria, UK

    Get train companies to talk to each other particularly where a delay on one train will lead to a missed connection on another.
    Mark Watson, uk

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    Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

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