From the East to the West
It was time for the M and R's annual barby last Saturday so I prepared for a longer than usual journey. I was also up for a comparison of train services which is exciting isn't it? I had been discussing it with my friends on the Common (upstairs) and though they acknowledged SET had improved it was as nothing compared to services out of Waterloo proper. My outbound journey seemed to confirm that the pootling along in the old jallopy to London Bridge then a change then to Waterloo East then to Waterloo and then- bang!- I am on the Bullet train to Surbiton catching my breath in a top notch carriage with not a scratched window in sight. (getting a ticket at Waterloo was a bit of a mare though - almost as bad as Victoria). I get off the train and jump aboard, after a short wait, a reasonably unvandalised 281 which took me straight to the burning, if slightly damp, flesh.
(Argh ...Opera in Ubuntu didn't like this webpage (or vice versa) for some reason...rudely interrupted again. Switched to Firefox)
So South West wins round one. The next day with a bad head, probably induced by all that burger fat, I start the return leg. Again a 281 appears quickly and gives me an attractive ride up and down Surbiton Hill, parking straight outside the white facade of the station. Then it looked like the problems were about to start. Surbiton on a Sunday has always had millions of passengers and never enough staff. Add to that complicated enquiries by people whose first language is not English and other complicated season ticket procedures and you are going to die before you get to the end of that queue. There used to be two rubbish automated machines that also had long queues and the paper money slot would stop working just as it was your turn and you would find the fare was ten pence more than you had in change. Dreadful. However when I went there this Sunday though the endless queue was there were also a bank of intelligent machines that take plastic. So South West gets out of jail on this point - a marked improvement (though still a bit inadequate I would think for the commuter station par excellence).
But... I get to the platform and a not so handsome train is sitting there as dead as a doornail and the platform is packed with passengers. The train arrives and it is a struggle to grab a rather hard seat. Again there are more people than services out here. I get to Waterloo and walk straight through to catch a train to Plumstead. It pootles along as usual but it is not at all crowded - the opposite in fact, almost deserted.
Now of course millions of bored and cash rich Surrey-ites heading for a stroll down the South Bank is never going to matched by some mad Sunday exodus to SE18 but the point of all this is that a train service is more than the rolling stock, even the punctuality. The body/seat ratio is pretty important too. Since moving here I have never had to stand on either end of the journey and this is without me adjusting my normal hours. A train journey of fifteen minutes is a nice thing but 25 minutes when you can sit down and enjoy the views isn't too bad either. I doubt it will last sadly...all those new homes further east and all these disappearing transport schemes mean we might all feel a little more Surrey-like.