Thursday, 1 November 2012

On the subject of Suicide

Last night all those using South West Trains were delayed. There were various signalling problems late on in the day, but the majority of the carnage was due to somebody committing suicide at Wimbledon.

I’ll moan about delays and endlessly promote the need for better service, but what I don’t understand is some of the vitriolic bile being spewed out by some on Twitter last night. Yes, the disorganisation is an issue and yes, the communication of the Twitter team should be matched by the staff on the platforms, or as someone rightly said: “We all understand & sympathise re disruptions/delays, all we ask is accurate info.”

I’m not going to name and shame, for it really isn’t my place, but did you happen to see some of the tweets last night? Oh. My. God. Sometimes I hate Twitter. It makes you acutely aware that people exist who have a completely different opinion to life and the universe. What on earth is the point of telling the South West Trains twitter team that they are (in no particular order): “W*nkers”, “c*nts”, “get up off your ar$e” “shower of useless sh*te” (to name but a few).

In all the melee, it seems to have been forgotten that someone died. And according to the Samaritans, someone takes their own life with alarming regularity on the railways. Instead of blithely commenting on their selfishness, or, as in one particularly grim case, offer to “get a firing squad to save them the bother”, perhaps you non-sympathisers could stop and think of the human element. Firstly of the train staff and emergency services who had to bear witness to such a horrific scene and secondly to somebody who felt so incredibly unwell/desperate/crazed that they felt there was no way out. If you’re lucky enough to have never suffered from the kind of mental torture that leaves you feeling like this, bravo. But don’t expect the great majority of us to applaud your ill-informed opinions on suicide.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Power of Information

A guest blog by @BigDoodyBoy

So, Monday 29th of October 2012 was another of those days Southwest Trains would like to forget. Overrunning engineering work and 2 passengers taken ill had a devastating effect on morning services with some lines not restored to full operation until after 16:00.

If there was any doubt as to the effect, you only need to look at the photograph I took at 08:45 of the lower concourse at Waterloo. It clearly shows that no-one was arriving.

Commuters were taking to twitter in droves complaining about a lack of trains and a lack of information. Three incidents bringing a whole network to an almost complete
standstill certainly warrants complaint although given how often it happens there must be some intrinsic logistical nightmare that just cannot be overcome. What intrigues me, though, were the complaints about lack of information. For the first time ever, I did not experience this problem and what a difference it made.

We have all heard about information being power and we all believe that having better information would allow us to better manage our own travel options in times of adversity.
And so, we've all complained vociferously about its complete absence when Southwest Trains services go into meltdown. But would having better information really affect your decisions and effect a better outcome? From Monday's experience, I would say "yes". In fact, it would have to be a resounding "YES!".

By 07:00 text alerts and twitter had informed me of problems on my line. Information was available on the t'interweb about the cause, status and the actions being taken. National Rail Enquiries live boards showed services running late, those delayed and those cancelled. I could also get arrivals information that corroborated the anticipated delays and monitoring this over breakfast showed that nothing was getting worse. All I had to do was choose one of three possible services which, given the information available, looked like the best one to get me past the problem area with the least disruption. The outcome? I took a diverted service and arrived at Waterloo only 5 minutes late but almost 15 minutes sooner than Southwest Trains anticipated. The fact that all of the information was correct, consistent and not subject to change at a moment's notice was a both a welcome surprise
and a key point in achieving the result.

But what of others who just turned up? Well, on the train, at every stop, the guard announced that the service was diverted and gave details of the new stopping points. No- one could complain of not knowing where they were going nor be under any illusion as to how long things would take.

This may have been the perfect storm of information availability, accessibility and reliability but it illustrates just how powerful accurate and timely information can be.

So, Southwest Trains, next time you fail to run a decent service, at least provide actionable information to all affected people. You never know, they might actually start thanking you for it!

Thank you.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Not me Guvnor

My 6%, your 6%, the national average of 6%... 

Train fares are all over the news at the moment: BBC are challenging it, Channel 4 seem opposed to it, Channel 5, well they've got some bird who works for the Daily Mail featuring, so that's the big news for them. 

Everyone seems to be angry. Bob Crowe is angry with the Train Operating Companies for having ga zillions of profit. The average Joe (me) seem to be torn between raging against the same machine and raging against the Government. The Conscientious objectors point out that we should all rage against the companies that lease the train carriages. 

"Who is to blame?", others cry. As Mavis from Corrie used to say: 'I don't reeeally knoooow'. Obviously. I'm but a mere commuter, with no insider knowledge on governance, train operators and the rest. But the more people they claim are responsible, the more diluted the message. And the less likely any action is to succeed. Same old story, rumbling on ... 

All I do know for certain is this: 

- I go to a South West Trains vendor, cross their palm with silver and get a ticket to travel. 
- From January 1st 2012, I was made to pay 6% more for the pleasure - I started keeping a diary of delays, problems, service etc. 
- You can see from this blog what the service is like, but that's anecdotal evidence, so who will listen to that? 
- So here is a fact. A real fact, not manipulated for any gain or a figure massaged to make the service look either better or worse. 
- From 1st January - 1st August 2012. 20% of all my journeys on South West Trains have been delayed (5 mins or more) or cancelled. 
- From 1st January - 1st August 2012 I have recieved £0 of compensation 

Whoever is 'to blame', I pay my money in good faith to South West Trains. As I am being forced ('forced' because they have a monopoly and I have no other viable way of getting to London) to pay 6% more again from January 1st 2013, is it too much to expect that service should improve and compensation should be clearer and fairer? 

Apparently so.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

My 6%

Rail fares went up by 6% on January 1st 2012.  

Service levels up? 


Capacity increased?


Less delays?  


Compensation for delays? 

No. 20% of my journeys on South West Trains since 1st January 2012, have been delayed (5mins+) or cancelled.
And so we will have this infinitum for ever and ever. In today's Top news story, Rail fares are to increase by another 6% next January. 

Is there really nothing that can be done? Is this it? Surely someone out there has a great idea for some form of protest that doesn't impinge or break laws, but does give decent coverage to help the cause? 
Help required. Apply within.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Big Society

Having witnessed one of the greatest sporting weekends in living history for Britain, it would seem churlish to moan about trains. So I won't. 

In fact South West Trains have been remarkably quiet on my route. Plus obviously, we have the lollies. Well, we don't, but the #lollywatch is on and that's a rather splendid touch by South West Trains at London Waterloo. They're strawberry splits, in case you were wondering. 

But even more anti-moany this week has been the real success of #Fridayshoes (if you don't know what I'm on about, see previous blog). Not only did we commuters manage to raise £260 out of nowhere for a small and very grateful charity (The Tree of Hope), but even my nemesis, the former root of all Signal failures, geese on the line and weather issues, the MD of South West Trains, agreed to match what we'd made. 

I'm sure some could question the gesture, but in the spirit of the Olympics, I am not one of them. I couldn't care less about an ice lolly, but offering cash to help a great cause will stick with me; won't stop me continuing crusade for fairer compo, better service etc. 

But it will stay with me. Thank you South West Trains, I'm very grateful.

Monday, 16 July 2012

The South West Trains Montage of Misery 7th - 16th July 2012

Thank you to so many of you for continuing to send me your pictures for the South West Trains Montage of Misery. As I always say, this isn't just a place for me to moan, I would rather it was a collective way for us all to document just how rubbish South West Trains are.

If this is your first viewing, it is a Montage of all that is crepe about South West Trains. If you're wondering why I keep using the term 'South West Trains', it is an attempt to get Google to notice me more. Hey, google, over here, cooee!

Back to subject, this week's South West Trains Montage of Misery documents:

- A tongue in cheek protest by cycling commuters. (Last Monday, South West Trains went from saying no non-folding bikes AT ALL would be allowed to travel during the Olympics, to completely changing their mind by Friday. Most amusing). Would a kids bike be allowed to travel?
- The state of certain station platforms. More Chessington World of Tip Juice, then adventures
- Overcrowding, or what we now like to call 'normality' on South West Trains
- Overrunning engineering works. Which now happen so regularly they should just be called 'daily engineering works'.
- People in Ashford, Surrey wanted to take the train and go and see the Olympic Torch. South West Trains didn't duly oblige.
- The continuing Curious Incident of the South West Trains cars in Weybridge car park (has been going on since March, see original blog post here for more info)

As always, all pictures are really much appreciated. The only ones I do not publish are 'personal' ones (so any about staff doing the wrong thing, or those that focus solely on an individual. This isn't because I don't think individuals should be held to account, but more because I don't think it is my place to be the one to hold them there.

Any new ones to add for the next time, please either email me or tweet me @my6percent

Friday, 6 July 2012

The South West Trains Montage of Misery 3rd - 6th July

Wow. Even the Montage of Misery appears to be attracting some love from you. Thank you for continuing to send these through. There are some absolute crackers. So many, in fact that I've had to forego the usual 'once a fortnight' rule for new Montages and put up a new one only 4 days after the last.

This one documents:

  • The continued and worsening severe overcrowding (many having to stand for over an hour on a daily basis)
  • The issue of bikes - should they be allowed at peak time? What services can they be brought on? Should they use up 4 seats when others are standing?
  • Great shot found by @jdgwarren of the goose on the loose - a few months old, but amusing nevertheless.
  • The continued problem of the unusable car park, which has been going on since March (see this blog for more info The Curious Incident of the Trucks in the Car Park)
  • And, for your amusement, a most enormous beanbag

If this is the first time you've looked at this, it's a montage of all that is shockingly awful about South West Trains. You go on them though, so you probably know this already. If you have any you'd like to add to the next round (which by this rate will come tomorrow!), please do send them to me: @my6percent or email me at

I want to ride my Bicycle: A guest blog by @SimmoTheGypo

South West Trains: On the issue of bikes

Another guest blog for your delectation. They seem to be more regularly sent to me nowadays, which is great, because this isn't just meant to be me ranting away (as much as it looks that way). It is meant to be a place where you can share your opinions on South West Trains.

Let's face it, they are completely and utterly sh*tbags, in terms of reliability, space and schedule. The bright spots being many of their staff, who we've all (thanks to twitter) had the chance to converse/disagree/agree with. Shame their senior management, in their Ivory Towers, don't pay more attention, because one day, this abonimable level of service will come back to bite them. One day...

Anyway, enough of my witterings, here's @SimmoTheGypo guest blog:

Commuter cycling has never been more popular.  Brompton, the classic commuter cycle maker has seen sales rocket in recent years; and Evans, the high-end bike shop, has seen expansion fueled by rich city commuters, often buying expensive, bespoke cycles. The London Cycling Campaign, a lobby group, has 11,000 members.
London, thanks to this fashion, the ‘Boris Bikes’ scheme, concern about the environment, the cost of the London Underground, and events like the London bombings; resembles Beijing in parts, with many more cyclists on the road.  On the whole this movement has been benign, however, friction often occurs.  Cyclists, who flaunt road rules, frequently come into conflict with other road users and pedestrians. The rise of the militant cyclist – with head cams and loud cycle warning horns designed to scare the wits out of pedestrians who have the temerity to cross the road – have alienated some. Cyclists come under frequent attack and are subject to aggressive abuse. Around 18 cyclists are killed each year in London, although this is miniscule when compared to the number of journeys made.
This has led to more cyclists on the road and a rise in the number of commuters travelling to work with their bikes. For years we have been used to the discreet city cyclist, with a folded up Brompton, rubbing along quite nicely with their fellow commuters. For a while this was the only way to bring cycles on some trains, certainly during peak hours.  If full-sized cycles were allowed, they were traditionally housed in the carriage used for the post.  But with the advent of new ‘high-density’ rolling stock, the ability to store bikes without affecting passengers has diminished.
I travel on South West Trains (SWT), and use their Class 444 Desiro class trains.  These have space for 3 cycles in two carriages. On peak time trains there is often more than this. On one occasion I witnessed 6 cycles in this area, and the passageway to other carriages totally blocked. On other services, with different rolling stock, the situation is worse, with the area with wall seats taken up totally by bikes.  Cross Country’s busy Southampton to Reading route is frequently rammed with cyclists and their full sized bikes. This abuse of bike rules appears to be repeated on other lines and train operating companies (TOCs) thanks to the anecdotal evidence on my6percent’s and SWT’s Twitter feeds.
This results in comfort and safety issues for the majority of passengers who do not take their bikes to work. Furthermore, the space given over for bike storage could be converted to seating, perhaps leading to around 20 seats per formation, thereby reducing overcrowding. However, this is unlikely to happen: TOC’s see allowing bikes as part of their PR on green issues; cyclists are a vocal lobby, and will argue strongly against any reduction in on-train bike facilities.
There is something Network Rail and the TOCs can do about this. Policing the problem is an obvious way to get cyclists to comply. Pre-booking could help, especially on peak-time services. The train manager, or guard, who is responsible for the safety of the train, should be allowed to order cyclists to leave if they overcrowd or abuse bike provision.
Better provision could be made at terminals and feeder stations for bike storage and security.  London is fairly flat, and you do not need a top of the range bike to get around. If cyclists left their “home” bike at their origin station, and had a cheap bike kept at a terminal, or used a free Boris Bike, then the only issue would be for passengers dealing with the BO of their cycling co-travelers.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

My friend's rant about public transport

My friend raises some good points about the shitness of UK transport. Thought I'd share. I called it a rant, but I am reliably informed it is in fact,  a "carefully considered and calmly positioned polemic":

"Now, transport. I like it on the way into Berlin where it's always on time and you get the trumpetty announcements, and in Vietnam where the guard gives you noodles. I think it's AWFUL in the UK how we have to pay so much for such shite customer service (all apart from Lorraine at Liverpool Lime St who as previously documented, is my number one friend in the world). Also, shite product (crowded, smelly trains) and godawful pricing structures where workers who RELY on trains are penalised by paying the highest fares and having the worst delays. 

And if you dare to book a ticket on the same day as travel (who would do such a thing??! I ask you) you have to pay a sum that would otherwise get you an overnight stay in a 5* hotel. And it seems unless you're leaving London (those journeys always seem to go smoothly, hmmm), any other journey could get cancelled and you're thrown on a shitty bus at the drop of a hat - if you'd wanted a bus you would have booked National Express and paid a quarter of the price. 

And trains always have to wait for ages "for a platform" outside stations like New Street and Derby for ages - like, it's run to a timetable, do they not KNOW the train is coming or what??! And between small towns there is rubbish coverage. And you can't get phone signal. And the worst of it is, the train companies know they have a monopoly so they have no need to improve!!! Rah. Thank goodness for #Fridayshoes."

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

South West Trains - Montage of Misery - 20th June to 3rd July

Squeezing on South West Trains, as usual

Here is the South West Trains Montage of Misery. Originally created to show a couple of photos of just how crepe South West Trains service was back at in March. It is now July and instead of improving has got steadily worse. Thank goodness they're not going to increase our fares soon (above inflation; I bet you cannot guess by what percent), that would seem grossly unfair.

This fortnight's offering of photographic narrative include: The Ghost of South West Trains and a man so used to not getting a seat, that he's taken to carrying a stool with him. A stool. Yes.

As always, if you have any to add, just send 'em to me for the next batch: @my6percent for twitter or for pigeon post.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Handling the London Waterloo rush hour on Twitter

South West Trains' commuter @JDGWarren surveys the shoes and delays from his control centre
It was 8 30 on a Friday and a man was threatening to put his bag on the seat next to him just as the train pulled into a packed Wimbledon station. 

As angry commuters remonstrated with him to make some space, My6percent was left with a different problem - geese on the line at Clapham Junction.

As South West Trains unofficial social media Czar, she knew thousands of commuters were about to be delayed. And many would turn to their phones for information.

At 8.33 she tweeted: "foul play on the line at Clapham. More to follow."

There was a lot more to follow. Being Friday, this was Fridayshoes day and by the time the geese had flown more than 150 pictures of loafers, sandals, winkle-pickers and plimsolls had been sent out - double the usual number.

But My6Percent was unruffled. "It gives me a shoe-induced high".

"I'm one of those sandals with socks kind of people. There are some lovely trainers out there and I try and to put myself in their shoes, so I know what I'm talking about"

"As South West Trains are so clearly not delivering a decent service, we need to keep each other happy. Fridayshoes helps deliver that."

Thursday, 28 June 2012

#FridayShoes - The rules of engagement

Dear, dear FridayShoes! I think it started as a way to stop us all just moaning about our commutes and, as usual with social media, quickly took on a life of it's own.

#FridayShoes is a game. A silly, addictive and fun game, that is meant to celebrate all that is unique about fellow commuters shoes. If you are reading this and you have never played, have a quick search on Twitter for 'fridayshoes', you'll soon see what all the fuss is about.

We would like you to join in and why not eh? It'll be Friday, nearly the weekend and hopefully you'll see someone with shoes you either really admire or are really amused by. It isn't meant to be a cruel game though, so no trolling please.


Find a fellow commuter with shoes you like the look of

Take a picture showing them in all their glory

Tweet the picture, using the hashtag #FridayShoes

Everyone else who is playing will then be able to find your entry and I will try and Retweet as many as I can (although I do still have a job to do, so apologies if I miss any)

The winner is chosen by concensus. We've tried doing a poll, we've tried Facebook, they don't work. In all the frenzy of shoe-finding, I guess that is understandable.

Winner is announced at about 8pm, leaving you the entire day to search out those killer heels, ridiculous wedges, lurid-coloured trainers or (the old classic) sandals with socks.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

South West Trains: Feeling The Squeeze - A guest blog by @lyricalbankster

An average commute for many

A guest blog by @lyricalbankster

In a couple of weeks’ time the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) is due to publish its latest stats on over-crowding on the UK's railways. Figures published a year ago may have suggested South West Trains was doing OK, but a quick glance behind the numbers tells a very different story: one of cramped and deteriorating conditions much worse than those endured by customers of other operators.

As a curtain raiser to the publication of the new figures, which are based on the performance during a three-month period last autumn, let's examine the previous report for an idea of what to look out for this time round.

That report was entitled 'Peak Crowding and Passenger Demand' and the first thing to note is that in the league table of over-crowding, SWT appears to be performing reasonably well compared with other commuter operators, although it does have the highest proportion of over-crowded trains arriving at a London terminus.

For the morning rush hour the 2010 figures show SWT carrying 3.4% over-capacity. By comparison First Great Western was an eye-watering 18.5% over-capacity, while Southern and National Express East Anglia were a snug 5.1% and 4.9% over respectively.

In the evening, over-crowding is generally much less as commuters stagger their journeys home - but SWT actually rises up the ranking in the league of shame for the PM peak, overtaking both Southern and NEEA .

So how does ORR measure over-capacity? The figures are based on the booked formation of the service.

An allowance is made for standing passengers and it is here that SWT is short-changing its customers in the most shameful way.

The ORR report is clear: "For most train operators the standing allowance is based on 0.45 sq metres per person. However for South West Train a figure of 0.25 sq metres is used."
Yup, SWT believes a fully grown adult should squeeze into a space half that deemed appropriate for most other rail commuters.

Remember too that both consumer magazine Which? and the Daily Telegraph have noted that even the 0.45 sq metre allowance is well below European Union rules for transporting livestock.
But the miserly space allocation may explain SWT's apparent reasonable showing in the over-crowding table of shame - it crams twice as many people into the same space before it is considered over-crowded.

So how many people are squeezed into these appalling conditions? Luckily ORR has the numbers: they make uncomfortable reading and even more uncomfortable commuting.

In the morning rush hour, well over a quarter of standard class passengers arriving at Waterloo on SWT have been standing - that's the highest percentage of any terminus station in London and equates to more than 27,000 people on a typical day. Just shy of a quarter of morning SWT commuter trains are deemed over-crowded. In the evening peak over a fifth of passengers are standing.
SWT supporters will argue that this is because Waterloo is London's busiest commuter station. Well not exactly. London Bridge and Liverpool Street put on more services and carry more passengers.
To be absolutely transparent, more standing passengers arrive on a typical day at London Bridge, but remember as they're travelling on non-SWT services they've got twice as much space as their Waterloo counterparts, and still the percentage of over-crowded trains arriving at London Bridge is less than a fifth.

So why is SWT entitled to shoehorn its passengers into half as much room as other train operators?
According to two written answers by government ministers in 2008, it's because South West Trains uses Class 455 units which have been "specifically configured with low density seating and appropriate grab rails for standing passengers to ensure that passengers can stand in relative comfort for short-distance journeys".

What those answers did not say was that Southern also uses the Class 455 units and it still allows the standard 0.45 sq metres of space for standing passengers. London Overland and certain Southeastern 'Metro-style' services have also been granted a dispensation - a far-from-comfortable 0.35 sq metre allowance, but that’s still the equivalent of two pairs of size-12 #fridayshoes larger than SWT allows.

In fact South West Trains is being disingenuous at best if it is using the 0.25 sq metre allowance across its entire network. The minister's written answer in 2008 specifically says the reduced allowance should be for services using the Class 455 units - by no means all SWT services - that "stop within 20 minutes of leaving Waterloo". For plenty of SWT services - including Waterloo to Woking, identified by the Daily Telegraph as the second busiest commuter route in the country - the first stop is more than 20 minutes after leaving Waterloo, even on the rare occasions that there are no delays.

The ORR today appears to imply that no passenger should have to stand on services that don't stop within 20 minutes of Waterloo.

Crucially that's not the same as saying passengers shouldn't have to stand for more than 20 minutes. But it does add weight to the argument that on services with a first stop of Woking, Basingstoke or Winchester passengers unable to find a seat in standard accommodation should be allowed to sit in first class areas.

It is worth pointing out that in her "Delivering a Sustainable Railway" report presented to parliament in 2007, the then Sectary of State for Transport Ruth Kelly did address the issue of seating and appropriate standing times. She insisted all passengers on so-called "inter-urban" services were entitled to a seat.

She added: "For commuter services, these planning standards [set out in the report] provide that passengers should have 0.45 square metres of space, equivalent to just under five square feet, and that passengers should not normally have to stand for more than 20 minutes."

That was five years ago. We should have a clearer idea in just a couple of weeks if we are any closer to that ambition, or whether, as many passengers fear, the trend of last year has continued and we're further away than ever.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

South West Trains Montage of Misery - Jubilee Weekend to 20th June

London Waterloo - Always a delight to commute here on South West Trains delay days!

Here are some choice pictures for your delectation, depicting the Misery of South West Trains commuters. They include a couple of choice shots taken during the 'Olympics Dry Run' where, it was universally agreed by those travelling on South West Trains, they failed. Or, to use twitter parlance:

#SWTrains #EpicFail

Friday, 15 June 2012

Boo, hiss etc.

It is very hard to write about a Strike without having formed your own opinion by the time you've finished typing the word itself.
I personally have never agreed with them that much, I'm from very much a righty background and our household did most certainly not carry the Thatch card. As an adult, I've probably become more tolerant, if that's the right word (and I'm not sure it is) of the idea of a group of people holding a management to ransom. 

Normally when I've thought about strikes, it's been the way the media have mostly reported; Nurses ditching their shifts in favour of more money, boo hiss etc. But here at South West Trains we have a whole different, not wholly emotive report. The media may well try and make it so of course. God only knows whether they'll bother with it at all, when Timmy Mallett is appearing at The Leveson. 

Most people I spoke to on Twitter about it - Should the SWTrains staff strike over a lack of bonus over the Olympics - were mainly of the opinion that they shouldn't and maybe they are right. But I don't agree. Ssh no one and I mean NO ONE tell my Father! 1 day in 5 (my average over 2012 so far) I am held to ransom by South West Trains and their appalling service. I don't get any compensation from them. Not a single bit. And I should. 

So why should I begrudge their staff the opportunity of getting what they think they are owed from their board of directors? Yeah, it'll make my journey unbearable and delayed. But they already are. Mine may not be a particularly popular view, and a little bit lefty, but there we have it. Whether they strike or not, my train will probably be delayed (1 in 5 days at least) so let 'em argue over a few hundred quid. If I had the opportunity to strike on South West Trains, I'd take it.