Jun 122015
 

I went on a little rail jaunt today. As some people will know, I have been not doing too well recently and I needed this to go well. I was doing this fantastic rail tour – plus the trip from Wetherby and back. 5:20am set off…

This rail tour requires an unusual ticket: the Ffestiniog Round Robin. I have previously had difficulties buying this in Leeds station as the ticket office staff don’t know how to issue it (eventually resulting in apologies and compensation) So I thought I’d pre-empt this by tweeting  Northern Rail.

No prizes for guessing what happened when I arrived at the ticket window at 05:40. The woman behind the counter (who had zero customer service skills and a moribund attitude) was ineffectually pawing at the screen like a slack-jawed luddite. She had never heard of such a ticket. She went away and got the supervisor. The supervisor had never heard of such a ticket. It could not be found anywhere throughout the whole computer system. (I was SO glad I tweeted to make sure that they were well-prepared.) In the end, I suggested they tried “Ffestiniog Round Robin” as a destination as opposed to a ranger / rover. This worked, but they still couldn’t issue the ticket until I suggested setting the From station as Whitchurch. Finally they issued my ticket. 20 minutes later.

Throughout the whole thing, the woman behind the counter gave every impression that I was the problem; she never apologised once. (Her boss did, very briefly.)

To rub salt into the wounds, when I remonstrated with Northern Rail on Twitter:


Yeah thanks, that made everything feel better.

At Llandudno Junction, on getting on the train, this greeted me,

2015-06-12 10.25.302015-06-12 10.44.49

Ah right, it’s not a wheelchair space, it’s a wheelchair, buggy and cycle space. That’s why there isn’t any indication at all in the “omni-space” that it is, in fact, meant for wheelchair users. Obviously the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations is irrelevant.

Where a train consists of a number of regulated rail vehicles shown in column A there shall be in that train not less than the number of wheelchair spaces shown in column B opposite that number of vehicles;

Wait, what’s this? They are wheelchair spaces? But there’s no signs!

a sign conforming to diagram C in the Schedule shall be marked on the fixed structure.

One has to wonder if “diagram C in the Schedule” creates an optical illusion by which the sign looks amazingly like a cupholder?

uksi_19982456_en_003Hmmm. Not terribly cupholderish.

Later, the next Arriva train: Porthmadog to Shrewsbury, a 3.15 hour epic. This train was ROASTING. It was so hot and hazy and uncomfortable that other passengers were stripping off to the waist. The air conditioning was broken. I don’t do well in the heat, partly because I’m fat, but also because of my impairment. It was most uncomfortable being stuck in an overheated carriage all that time.

What’s more, the interior door to the carriage wouldn’t shut. The conductor had opened the three postage-stamp sized windows by the fraction of an inch allowed by their mechanisms, so despite getting about as much fresh air as being coughed upon by an asthmatic field mouse, the noise was enough to resonate in my hearing aids and drive me crazy. Perfect.

Other passengers could move to the two delightfully quiet and frosty carriages with working air conditioning that joined us at Machynlleth. I obviously could not.

The pièce de résistance of the whole day is demonstrated by the following phone conversation.

I had a teensie bevvie or two on the way round; and some time after Shrewsbury’s platform staff helped me into the wheelchair space on the next train nature took its toll and I needed to pay a call. But the toilet was engaged. It had apparently been engaged for a very long time. I sent trusty 1:1 carer Mike to find the train guard, who went to see the driver to check if the toilet was out-of-order. It was; it turns out that the driver was aware of this fact but hadn’t bothered to tell the guard, the station staff or apparently anybody else.

The guard (who was excellent) unlocked the toilet. It was entirely clear why it had been locked out of use. (I won’t go into detail.) So what to do? Unlike other passengers, I couldn’t get to any other toilet. The only other option: to get off the train at the next stop and use the station toilet – but the guard told me the train would leave without me. No way. I’d already been travelling 14 hours at that point. I wasn’t going to catch a later train, thus missing my connection, have my oh-so-carefully booked assistance stuffed up.

This therefore resulted in the above gunfight in the OK corral.

In the end, common sense prevailed. Arriva Trains Wales‘ control room were still in a tizzy, but this wonderful guard had (ultra vires) contacted the next station, discovered that there were toilets directly outside where the train would stop (which weren’t fully accessible but that I could at least get in), had asked for help from the platform staff, and had decided to allow me to get off to rush to the loo and back. Which I did.

Other passengers congratulated me on my turn of speed; smoke was coming from my tyres; Mike did a Linford Christie impression, and the passengers commented that actually, I had taken less time than if there was a crowd trying to get on, or someone with a bicycle. We arrived in Manchester early.

Why should all this be necessary, though? All for a simple call of nature?!

Of course, as expected, to top it off the assistance staff didn’t turn up at Manchester to get me off that train or onto another. (Thanks, Network Rail.) Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – this is sady not uncommon, particularly at Manchester.

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