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EDITIONS
 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 10:45 GMT
The view from our rail champ
Jon Yuill, BBC News Online's rail commuters' champion, logs his thoughts about the wrongs and occasional rights of our rail system

Monday 27 January

Top Secret! Delays on the line


Oh, what sweet irony, what precision timing. There I was, about to submit my next Yuill Log, which was, dear reader, full of praise for First Great Eastern, when bang: Friday morning happens. A train had, apparently "failed" at Gidea Park. But for us blissfully ignorant mugs boarding trains 50 miles away, it was already too late. I set off from Witham in Essex at 8.15am and arrived in London nearly three hours later, cold, angry and so late it was almost worth crossing platforms and going straight home again. Except of course, there were no trains home either.

WHO IS JON YUILL?
Elected: Jon Yuill was voted BBC News Online's rail commuters' champion by users of the site
Voice: His role is to speak up for the beleaguered commuter
Commute: Married with three children, Jon commutes by train between Witham (Essex) and London
Our driver sounded as interested in our plight as a Tesco checkout girl on an all-night shift. He could have stopped at Chelmsford, informed us of the massive delay, and given us all a chance to turn round and go home. But he didn't. Instead, he pulled out of Chelmsford, went about half a mile and stopped. Only then did he make one, inaudible announcement. Then, nothing for another hour. And finally a grudging and pointless apology at the end. I give up.

I asked a few passengers as we walked off what they made of the whole fiasco, and nearly all said had they had been told about the severity of delay before they boarded, they would have not bothered getting on the train in the first place. Bearing in mind the incident took place at 6.20am, and FGE were still keeping us in the dark two hours later, I'm afraid they deserve all the stick they are getting.

Some of our rails are missing


If you have recently stood on a dark, freezing platform, peering into the gloom wondering where your train might have gone, how about this for a piece of pure railway absurdity. Thieves, armed with mechanical diggers and lorries have stolen, yes, stolen, a three-mile section of track weighing 313 tonnes. The theft was at Penshaw near Sunderland. The haul was worth about 250,000 as scrap metal. It won't however, pose a problem for commuters as the line stopped carrying passengers some years ago. Which may come as a shock to the elderly chap on platform three of Penshaw station.

Passenger Types: Number two, the Railway "Sleeper'


"Sleepers" nearly always start off reading something. Then, as the time slowly rolls along, the head starts dipping, like one of those glass birds with red fluid in that were all the rage in the 70s. After repeated attempts to keep the drooping head up, they gradually give in to fatigue and gravity kicks in. If you're really lucky, your narcoleptic neighbour will then start snoring. Quietly at first, progressing on to snorts of greater volume and unpredictability. The great thing about snoring on trains is the culprit never knows they're doing it, whilst the rest of the carriage giggles knowingly at each other with that "thank God I'm not sitting there" look.

Saving the best 'til last, The Sleeper then starts the almost imperceptible moves that result with their head resting on your shoulder whilst their Evening Standard floats, in pieces to the ground. I once saw a "sleeper" totally disoriented by a coat, which fell from a rack above, covering his head. Waking to total blindness, he screamed in terror, lashing out with feet and hands severely bruising the legs of a fellow passenger, before someone pulled the coat off.

With only 20-odd days before the congestion charge kicks in, many commuters, already forced to endure cattle truck conditions, are bracing themselves for even greater congestion of a different kind. If Mr Livingstone's theorem is correct, and his charge forces people to seek alternative transport, thousands more will end up standing to and from work. Station car parks, already full, will now have queues of their own. Get your calls in to the Samaritans early, there's bound to be a rush.

Finally, more e-mails on Platform 12 at Liverpool Street, which seems to have taken on a status approaching that of Harry Potter's 9. Never mind al-Qaeda. Surely the poor station staff at Liverpool Street should be issued with anti-odour masks?

Stephen Walker, United Kingdom
With a choice of routes to come into work, accurate and timely information is useful. Knowing this morning's problem with the Central Line I asked a group of three platform staff whether the Waterloo and City line was likely to be running, since they use the same rolling stock as the Central Line. "We've not heard of anything, hence they're probably running" was both incorrect and showed a complete failure to understand how they might add some value.

Andy, UK
Earlier this month, with the Ramsgate to London line blocked by not one but TWO broken down trains, I was directed to an old slam-door train that looked like something out of Scrapheap Challenge. Three miles up the line it stopped and caught and we were disgorged into the Kent countryside. The guard then asked if any of the commuters on board had a pair of boltcutters on them to demolish a fence to get us all off the train. Five-and-half hours for a journey that should last 48 mins.

Neil Bhalla, UK
Almost as bad as the "Sleeper" is the "Sneezer" who gets into a hot, overcrowded train and decides rather than stay at home to recover it would be far better to cough, sneeze and splutter over their healthier fellow passengers and spread a little disease around!

Ian Walford, UK
Worse than the "Sleeper" must be the "Huffer". When there is any sort of delay, they imediately start to huff, snort and make general sarcastic comments about the state of the railways. Continued delays result in the Huffer turning a dark shade of beetroot, and often uncontrollable foot tapping and hold-ups of more than one hour have resulted in heart problems .

Steve M, UK>
I've been commuting for eight years and can only remember one occasion in that time a driver gave clear, appropriate and useful information about a delay.


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