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8:17am on Wednesday, 18th June, 2014:

Broken Railways


I picked my wife up from the train station at 10:20pm last night. This is three hours later than normal.

She had phoned at about 6:45pm to warn me that she'd be late because of a broken-down train at Chelmsford. I checked online and yes, sure enough, the official websitenoted delaysof 80 minutes for trains going through Chelmsford as a result of a broken-down train at Chelmsford station.

Now 80 minutes is a long delay. That's not the kind of delay usually caused by a broken-down train, even if it's one in a station (where trains in both directions have to stop at the same platform to let off passengers, holding up the trains in both directions while they do so). Broken-down trains can be towed out of the way fairly quickly, especially when they break down at large stations such as Chelmsford which have shunting engines on site.

The delay remained at 80 minutes for a while. I had to turn down the offer of a group in The Secret World because I could be called away at any moment to go fetch my wife. As the time of the weekly New York Raid approached, though, and I still hadn't had the call to go get her, I checked again: the delay had gone up to 120 minutes. No Tuesday raid for me, then.

When I finally did get the call, it was 190 minutes later than usual. My wife was not all that pleased, but judging by the number of cars still in the station car park she was better off than many people. The train driver had told her what the Internet had told us: it was caused by a broken-down train in Chelmsford station. Normally when there's this kind of delay, it would be because a train's pantograph had brought down half a mile of power cables or something. A broken-down train doesn't cut it.

We found out this morning on the radio that the cause of the problem was an overhead power failure which had caused a train to break down just outside Chelmsford.

This morning? Why not last night?! Why weren't the people crammed into Liverpool Street station in London told to go away and come back three hours later? Why were the people sitting in a queue of trains told that they'd be there for three more hours? Why wasn't the Service Disruptions web site telling us that trains would be 180 minutes late so we could go on our New York Raids and be finished in plenty of time?

The lack of information in these situations is a railway staple here in the UK. It's so regularly bad, in fact, that I harbour suspicions that it could be deliberate. Maybe they want all those people waiting at Liverpool Street so they can clear them out quicker, and they don't want to have to be putting on trains through the night for people who come back late? It's just the kind of warped thinking that could be a hang-on from the days of British Rail. Someone certainly must have known how long it would take to clear the line and fix the power problems: that person's knowledge should have been communicated to the tens of thousands of people who were having to change their plans every half an hour to account for "just in case".

At least it wasn't the day before. My wife would have been in a murderous mood if she'd missed the season finale of Game of Thrones...

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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).