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Originally posted October 9 2006 at 20:10 under General. 0 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled.

Why The Trains Are Always Late

Slightly annoyed
Newcastle (well Gateshead), at last

I’ve been to Nottingham to see Ed, We played games, had a pub lunch (where their “hand made” steak and ale pie was replaced with steak and kidney), and watched Robin Hood (appropriately—the representation of Nottingham Castle was poor). And Donny Darko is quite strange (so’s his brother Johnny). That’s all irrelevant though

Coming back to Newcastle I ended up on a Virgin train, which I caught at Chesterfield (who have very immature station announcers incidently). This train was running perfectly to time. We reached York. There various announcements were made, especially one telling passengers boarding that this train was heading only as far as Newcastle and not on to Scotland. The Scotland train was the next one, behind us. Get off. Despite this warning it soon became apparent that some passengers hadn’t heard (to be kind) or ignored/disbelieved/thought didn’t apply to them (to be cruel) these warnings. There was plenty of time for this to become clear, because we were crawling out of York. A couple of trains went whizzing past on what turned out to be the fast line. We, it was announced, were stuck on the slow line to allow those trains to whizz by because they were late. So now, those two trains are (still) late and so are we not because we’re held up by them in front, but because they are behind us! To make matters even better one of the trains was the one which was going on to Scotland (all the confusion had apparently come from it’s being late to start with). This meant that those passengers who had erroneously boarded the Newcastle terminating train could now no longer simply get off at Darlington and catch the train following behind because, well, it was now in front. In fact they’d have to hang around for the next one, and be even more late. They’re late, we’re late on our perfectly good train, the two trains which passed are still late. And so it goes.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this bizarre inverse traffic jam. It’s never seemed likely that any of the originally late trains are going to make up enough time to allow passengers to catch connections they may be going to otherwise miss—and it’s always seemed likely that passengers on the newly delayed train which is slowed down are then in danger of missing connections. I can only assume it’s a ploy by the rail companies to allow the trains to be just within some sort of cut off for meeting a performance target (better to have two or three trains ten or fifteen minutes late and meeting target A than one on time and one thirty minutes behind schedule and failing target B). I’ve been on both sides of the slow/fast train thing. If you’re already late you begin to wonder why they’re rushing so much. It’s not going to help make your journey what you thought it would be and will probably actually just end up with you spending more time on a cold platform than in a warm train if you do have a connection to find. On the specially delayed train you wonder why they’re inconveniencing even more people than they need.

And never, anywhere, is there ever much explanation of why the already late train is, in fact, already late.

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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