Monday, 14 February 2011

First World Problems; or, East Coast Trains are a load of absolute buggery bollocks

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Oh it was all going to be so elegant and charming. I finally got over my travel fury, which consists of: why does anyone make me leave my room, ever? I decided in fact that a lovely journey south on the train would be a pleasure, and a couple of days in London's gaudy Soho would cheer me up in the midst of a grubby, muddy February.

I was all set. I had paid forty quid extra to go First Class, because I thought it was worth it for an eight hour journey. I had Andrew Ross Sorkin's book about the Wall Street Crash on my Kindle app (note to my mother: this is an electronic application which enables me to read books on my iPad), and also a couple of old classics, in case I could not stomach one more sentence about Dick Fuld and that idiot Joe Cassano. I might turn to The Charterhouse of Parma, or the Memoirs of Madame de Montespan. I even went to the enchanting new deli next to the station, a family firm called Peckham's which I cannot recommend more highly if you are ever in Aberdeen, and stocked up on salami and Port Salut. The days of British Rail food might be long gone, but the railway sandwich is still a sad and expensive thing.

They made me a triple espresso on a big humming Gaggia machine while Nina Simone sang Well I run to the rock, in the way that only she can. Sinnerman is one of my favourite songs in the entire world; you don't hear it very often; I took it as a marvellous sign.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. I walked up the foggy platform to find my coach did not exist. Someone had magically made it disappear in the night. The remaining coach was filled with confused people trying to find their seats; I think I'm supposed to be L17, people were saying, peering over their spectacles. So that was not a tremendous start. Part of the point of paying for a first class ticket is that you get lots of lovely space to spread out; the carriages are never full and there is a sense of ease and quiet. Now, because of the missing coach, every single seat was filled up. It was like a school trip.

Then it was revealed that the heating in the replacement coach did not work. It is a cold, raw day in the north of Scotland; sitting in a metal tube without heat is like being outside. By some mad quirk of fate, my own reservation had been moved to a little half coach, with a mere sixteen seats in it, and some warmth. I don't know what I would do if I had to travel eight hours in sub-zero temperatures. Through the door, I could see old ladies freezing to death.

I say some heat. I am still writing this huddled up in my overcoat with two scarves on, because the door between carriages does not work. It squeaks and jiggles and when the train tilts it SLAMS open, letting in blasts of frigid air. I don't know which is more maddening: the insane squeaking or the gales of cold.

I ask the guard if at least she might close the door. 'Can't,' she says laconically. 'It's out of air.'

'Oh,' I say. 'That seems a little inept. And what about the missing coach?'

'Broken,' she says. 'In for repairs.'

'I know it's not your fault,' I say, pushing down the urge to shout. 'But you would think that someone might be in charge of that.'

'Oh there IS,' says the guard, animated for the first time, as if the person in charge is such a diamond that even thinking about them brings a smile to her face. I realise quickly that the smile is for a different reason. 'You can send complaints to her,' she says. 'I've run out of complaint forms but you can find one on the internet.'

The woman in charge of coaches is called Karen something and I hope that she is filled with angst, is all I can say.

'Do you think we'll get a refund?' I ask.

The guard looks sceptical and bored.

'Shouldn't think so,' she says. 'You can try.'

After the guard leaves, the man next door to me leans over conspiratorially.

'I said just the same,' he said. 'She was very rude. The only time she smiled was when she got to the bit about the heating being broken in Coach M. She seemed to find that funny.'

At Edinburgh, there was choas as far too many people tried to wedge into far too few seats. Two ladies trying to get to Cardiff were most exercised. People started sitting dolefully on the floor. There was not room for all the suitcases. 'Where is Coach L? I'm in Coach L,' people were shouting at each other.

Then, for some reason, the place started smelling very strongly of stale garlic, which was not the most delightful scent to savour at 10.30 in the morning.

Ah well, I thought, it's teeny tiny hardly visible to the naked eye First World Problems. I still can't really bear it for the people in the freezing carriage, but as I peer next door they seem stoical and resigned.

Here is what I do not understand though. If I were East Coast Trains I would be gushing and grovelling and apologising. I would be stroking bruised egos and softened crashed expectations. Not a bit of it. They don't give a fuck. There's no other train any of us can take, so we are a captive market. There is no reason for them to say they are sorry, and they don't.

The sun comes out, finally, breaking through the fog. The train snakes slowly over the River Tweed. 'Oh there's the Tweed,' someone says, as if it were the finest river on earth. The sun glints off the water. It is a ravishing sight, water and sky in twenty shades of grey and silver and blue.

I smile. I think: well at least I've got a seat, and a coat, and I did bring an extra scarf which now looks like a perfect miracle of emergency planning. It could be worse.

The trolley comes round.

'Do you have peanuts?' I say.

'75p,' the man says.

'75p for a tiny bag of peanuts?" I say, in genuine surprise. 'It says in your promotional literature that peanuts are free.'

'Used to be,' he says. 'Now they are 75p.'

East Coast Trains are the biggest bunch of showers I have ever encountered and you know I never have a common thought or mean but I hope that none of them gets a SINGLE VALENTINE ROSE. Especially that Karen thing in charge of the coaches. But whoever made the decision about the peanuts also deserves a special place in hell.

And you thought you might be getting lovely sunny holiday posts. Better tomorrow I promise.

Oh, and for those of you who believe in the Feast of St Valentine, I hope you get love and presents and flowers and kissing and impetuous trips to distant cities and dinners in dark restaurants. For those, like me, who do not, let us all just carry on as if nothing is at all is going on.

PS. Forgive errors. The iPad is quite hard to type on and when the sun comes out you cannot see the screen. Also the print is very small, so I am squinting madly at it. But the blog must be DONE, however imperfectly.


  1. Evil bloody train companies. I hope you write a very strongly worded letter of complaint to Karen.

    My minor grip with East Coast Trains is that you only get 15 mins free wifi unless you're in First Class. Grrrr. I'm not paying their extortionate prices for it.

  2. The total bastards! - I don't think I can put it any more eloquently than that as I sit here fuming on your behalf with a thick head and an epic sore throat.

  3. This does refelct my experience with East Coast trains. WiFi used to be unlimited and free in standard class too.

    I hope the holiday proves worth the journey. I tend to find my trips to Scotland make me forget the journeys up, even when the journey is in a seated sleeper faving the broken carriage door.

  4. I do hope you complain Karen or no Karen. Sometimes miraculously the complaints do work. I had a minor miracle like that with one of our own five star hotels. When the initial letter did not work, I put it on trip advisor. I had the Banqueting Manager on the phone with me within half an hour!!!!

  5. Yes, they've definitely gone downhill over the last year. The stopping of free wifi in standard just smacks of spitefulness and moneygrabbing.

    I used to travel by train on the London/Edinburgh route, now though, it's just as cheap to fly (unless you boom months in advance)

  6. OMG! I was planning a train trip - opting for letting the train take the strain but maybe not! Thank you for the warning!!! Hope your day gets better and coming home is a doddle!

  7. Sorry to hear about your horrible journey - hope you have a lovely break and return revitalised and refreshed.

  8. How bloody awful. When I visit Scotland, one of the highlights (all the way from the other side of the world) is THAT train trip NORTH from Heathrow; first class, quiet, letting the beautiful country wash over me. I'm reminded of Alain de Botton's book THE ART OF TRAVEL and that first essay on the anticipation and reality of travel. More often than not, our anticipation does not match the reality.

  9. Oh what a trial you had to endure.
    From the outside the worse of it is the attidute of the staff on the train - utterly 'antipatici' (unsymphatetic)and totally unfased by your ordeal in an almost sadistic way.
    Big Society? There was a lot a talk of it today. I heard Cameron's speech as was intrigued and impressed by his vision. But it is difficult to imagine some of the people you encountered today being ever part of it!
    Hope you are safely in London by now and had a good hot bath followed by a yammy meal. X

  10. ((((Tania)))) Where do the train companies find these people with the spectacular lack of aptitude for customer service? Or do they train it out of them? Complain to Karen, a strongly worded letter is the very least she deserves.

  11. I don't know how long this train takes. I do hope you are now very much safe and sound and warm in London!
    And when you are sufficiently "restored", by all means zing off a point by point letter/ email to the parties "responsible" with a photocopy of ticket stub, etc. You shouldn't have to pay for something you never received. (If you were in the litigious US of A you could probably get a hefty settlement in compensation.)

    Pat (in Belgium)

  12. Tania - commiserations! But thank god for the dismal East Cost Trains and its ineptitude for providing you with such a wealth of material. Your post has had me in absolute fits of laughter.

    I hate to benefit from your testing experience, but you have told it so very well.

    Interesting aside about the iPad. I am an iPhone lover and have been coveting an iPad, but have wondered if it would actually be much use for working on. It would seem that too could be trying.

    Enjoy your holiday, in spite of ECT. (Oh notice the acronym! Coincidence?)


  13. Hello again - I have just read your post aloud to the husband, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He regularly follows you by proxy (being me).

    Anyway, noticed my typo in previous comment and cannot rest. It is of course, East *Coast* Trains.

    Here's hoping the ineffective Karen gets her act together before your return journey home.

  14. sore throat is not a lot of fun its just uncomfortable and difficult to swallow.

    usually, i would take the Nim Jiom Cough Syrup ( ) which has a thick consistency formulation. it coats the throat and includes herbs that are particularly good for that application.

    i hope it works on you as well.

  15. I loved this post and laughed out loud in complete empathy. All so familiar. Have spent SO many miserable hours on the east coast line. I wouldn't mind so much if it didn't cost a complete FORTUNE unless you travel at 2am on a Tueday.

    ps By the way, did you know you have a blog namesake ('blogsake'?) -

  16. public transport is I'm afraid a constant battle- I long for a private train in the style of the Royals. They are still romantic trains though, even when they're awful, I don't know why at all.

    It's very chic blogging on an i pad, I should think you looked terribly busy and creative.

    I am also starting to love the kindle (well mine is the kindle app on my i phone). I thought I loved books and hated computerised ones but it turns out you read loads more on them. I am finding that I have to still buy the hard copy of the book or I feel bad- does anyone else find that? it's expensive!

  17. What a funny post but sadly utterly reflective of my experience of East Coast. I travelled back from Newcastle once, and because my husband had neglected to prebook seats and the train was so delayed, we had to stand by the toilet fo the entire journey which ended up being 5 hours due to further delays. No heating and we were one of the lucky ones to get on! I'm off to Edinburgh next month and dreading the train.

    As for Karen - if this is how they treat their customers, than imagine how they treat their staff. The cause of the problem is most likely not people like her, but is somewhere sitting in a comfy chair in a warm luxurious office !

  18. East Coast are a joke. They are beyond useless and some of their train guards believe they are auditioning for the Stasi Anyone heard of customer service? I used to use the train weekly to Leeds and London, now I've given up and realised that Easyjet is cheaper, quicker, more reliable, better customer service. Missed my flight on Easyjet recently and they put me on the next flight free of charge - try that with East Coast.


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