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 Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 09:18 GMT
Shivering on the platform
Christopher Wain, who for many years worked as the BBC's Transport correspondent, recounts a frustrating evening on the railways.

Brr-brr. "Welcome to South-west Trains' customer help-line.

If you are two passengers who have recently returned to the UK from Rome, and are wondering why the Heathrow Rail-Air connecting coach arrived at Woking Station three minutes after the departure of your train for the West Country, please press 1.


If it is cold, lashing with rain and you are wondering why Woking station has no waiting-room facilities available to customers after 8pm when your train isn't due until 10pm, please press 1.


Come to that, if you are wondering why there are no refreshments available after 8.30pm, although the lady in charge of the cafeteria is clearly in sight lounging over her counter in a nice warm room but ignoring your pleading taps on the glass door, please press 1.


Chris Wain
Frustrating times for Christopher Wain

And another thing: if you are puzzled as to why it is that lifts have been fitted to enable disabled travellers or those with prams and toddlers to get between platforms without climbing scores of steep stairs, but that the lifts are not available between 1800 and 0600, please press 1.


If curiosity has overwhelmed you and you have found your way to the Station Manager's office only to find it deserted and you feel there ought to be an explanation, please press 1.


If, having returned to the draughty seat you've found near the ticket-office you have been alarmed by the station assistant going off duty, telling the ticket-seller about reporting a gang of four youths armed with knives who'd threatened a woman passenger at a station further up the line.

But he says that when he called British Transport police he was told to tell the local police instead because it hadn't happened on the station precincts, and that he personally didn't give a toss about going on working for this lot of *******, please press 1.


If you felt sorry for the young American couple wondering how they were going to get to Maidenhead when they had been sold a Woking-Waterloo return by a ticket-seller ("we both thought he was a little bit, er, strange") who insisted they had to buy a return even though they didn't want to return, please press 1.


If you are someone who was not in the least bit surprised to see slam-door rolling-stock in use on a passing train, even though you remember reporting back in the days of the Clapham rail disaster how these potentially lethal carriages would soon all be phased out, please press 1.


If you are wondering why, when public transport services run like a Swiss watch everywhere else in the European Union (with cheap, interchangeable tickets and a reliable timetable) ours are third-world by comparison, please press 1.


I'm sorry caller, all our lines are busy at this time. You can listen to some canned music if you like. Or you can try to guess how many minutes late your train will be.

Or you can watch the raindrops lit by the closed refreshment-room windows, whirling in the gusts eddying round the windswept platform.

Or, if you'd like to go into your goodies bag, you could instead break out the bottle of scotch and drink it.

That might press the right button.

South West Trains comment: "We are sorry that Mr Wain had an unpleasant return from holiday. Unfortunately persistent problems with vandalism and security mean we are obliged to lock waiting rooms earlier than we would wish to. We would have hoped that if Mr Wain had contacted a member of our staff asking for assistance with either waiting facilities or the use of lifts, they would have done their best to help him. "

Key stories


Safety crisis



See also:

06 Nov 02 | England
15 Dec 02 | Politics
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