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10:11am on Saturday, 29th November, 2008:

At Gatwick


Here I am at Gatwick Airport, waiting outside gate 52 at the North Terminal. I'm sitting on the metal housing that protects some pipes from people with trolleys, because despite the fact that we were told the latest we should arrive at gate 52 is 10:35, they haven't opened it yet (it's 10:00).

To get to Gatwick on time, I needed to check what train to catch. The place to look for UK train times is thetrainline, so that's what I did. It told me to catch the 6:36 from Colchester, get off at Stratford, take some other line to London Bridge, then get a train from there to Gatwick.

Hmm. That's not the sensible way to do it. The sensible way is to stay on the 6:36 and get off at Liverpool Street, then tube it to Victoria, then catch the Gatwick Express from there. Stratford is an awful station with poor information as to what platforms are for people taking what trains to where. It used to tell you to get a train from platform 10 without having any indication of which platform is platform 10, but because of the 2012 Olympics (for which Stratford will be the main station) they seem to have made some token effort to get their act together. It's still an awful, desolate station, though.

OK, so I didn't want to get off at Stratford. I told thetrainline I wanted to go via Liverpool Street. It chuntered away, then told me to get out at Stratford and take the Central Line to Liverpool Street. It did this for every time of train I checked, which was all of them between 5am and 9:30am.

I've had problems with these automated route-finding systems before, eg. when British Airways wanted to fly me between two American cities via Manchester, but they don't normally put up this much of a fight. Thetrainline was insisting I got off at Stratford, no matter what. I was beginning to wonder if the Stratford Chamber of Commerce had paid them to do it. Anyway, after some cajoling, I managed to establish that the 6:34 from Colchester did actually go to Liverpool Street, so all was well.

This morning, I got to Colchester North station in time for the 6:34, and found that there was engineering work on the line. All trains were stopping at Stratford. There was a coach service from Stratford to Liverpool Street.

Augh! Why didn't they just say that on thetrainline? Or, if they did say it, why didn't they say it so people would notice?

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).