Trains. Train timetables. Trains stopping and not stopping. Trains that don’t connect with trains they’re supposed to connect with. Train staff that can’t help you because it’s: ‘Not our company.’
One of the joys of moving to Berwick from London was our proximity to the station. London, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Bristol and, via Peterborough, Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich were a maximum two trains away. How clever we were to have chosen a northern idyll so well connected to our work, family and local cultural hotspots. We moaned about our elderly parents’ refusal to do the train journeys. ‘You don’t even have to change when you come from Bristol!’ we cried. Mother dubbed Peterborough ‘a dreadful windy place.’ She was resolute in the face of our protestations that it was merely a stopping off point.
Between us The Husband and I have travelled to and from London many times since our move – there have been occasional delays but, overall, we can’t complain. The minute you deviate from London, however, it’s another story.
We persuaded Mother-in-Law and Father-in-Law to travel from Bristol to Berwick for Christmas and arranged platform assistance for them at both ends. Surely it must be better than the car, where The Husband’s strict rules allow for one pee break and a Mars Bar? We had not anticipated the terrible weather of Christmas 2010. Brief, repetitive bulletins came from Mother-in-Law each time she remembered to turn on her mobile: severe delays. Then, unexpectedly, everyone was kicked off at Newcastle. Pandemonium. Finally The Husband drove to Newcastle to get them. Pale and shaken they related stories of being told to stay put; being told to lug their bags over the bridge etc. At no time were they offered real help. That night Father-in-Law had a heart attack. He received excellent treatment at the Wansbeck.
I have done the journey from Berwick to Ipswich three times in the last few months. New timetabling means an extra change at York to get to Peterborough. Twice, delays have meant I’ve missed my connection from York, then from Peterborough (which is a dreadful, windy place, with marathon length walks between platforms – sorry Mum!), and scored a bonus journey to Cambridge. Arriving over two hours late in Ipswich both times.
On one trip I met a Lovely Lady from Berwick who was travelling to Colchester – we’ve bumped into each other since in Berwick. She says she always goes via London now and has had no problems. I think I must do the same. But I can’t ask my elderly mum to do that. If the Peterborough walk’s bad, the tube between King’s Cross and Liverpool Street’s a killer. Apparently the not-stopping at Berwick is to do with time allocation. Certain London-bound trains can regain precious extra minutes if they skip places such as Berwick and Grantham.
I must be getting old because I’m really fed up with:
1. Attitudes to customers. There’s more than a hint of arrogance about companies that don’t ensure that informed staff are around to help people who find themselves in confusing situations when in that company’s care.
2. Attitudes to elderly people. Above point times five. In this era of an ageing population, can we really continue to disregard elderly people’s equal right to assistance, care and respect?
3. Attitudes to areas outside London. When towns like Berwick are written off as disposable ‘time-saving’ places – there are very real implications as far as facilities and opportunities are concerned.
4. Attitudes to the environment. If prices continue to rise and investment in track, rolling stock and service is not forthcoming how many people will put rail at the top of their travel options?
Of course, I’ve met some really helpful platform and on-train staff – those at Berwick Station included. But my experience is that they’re in the minority. What’s yours?
A version of this article appeared in the Berwick Advertiser on Thursday 7th June