Here it comes. Brewing inside me for some weeks now, I shall now disseminate the bile and hatred within me. The state of trains in this country is shaming. This weekend marks the third consecutive week of rail replacement services from my station, a process about as fun as tickling a pack of lions.
Not only is a reasonably fast and efficient service replaced by buses so ancient and useless they wouldn’t pass muster on student tours of Ecuador, but the whole miserable experience still costs the same as if you’d travelled in a comfortable seat with a gentleman in blazers walking up and down the gangway, smelling of cheap cologne and dispensing ridiculously over-priced snacks and wine to unwary tourists. That’s right; they even sell booze on trains these days. In trying to get their middle-class, sophisticated customers on board, the train companies have started to offer a wonderful selection of, err… two wines. At massively inflated prices. It’s hardly Wine Rack, is it?
Apparently, if you wear a vivid yellow jacket on a rail replacement day, it pretty much makes you king of the world. Or at least that’s what the station attendants believe, barking orders from the pavement like crazed U-boat captains ordering the blowing up of a distant ship. Ask them any question, however, and they turn into undisguised morons, flapping around bits of paper, cross referencing times of arrival and pointing passengers in a direction, which, without fail, is the wrong one.
The people on the buses aren’t much better. At least on a train you know what to expect. A late-night journey back from the capital is like the Devil’s housewarming party, only Beelzebub is replaced by a disembodied voice announcing “the next station is Lewes”, while drunk, tottering fools, stumble blindly through the carriages, looking for a toilet to be sick in (I should know, I’ve done it myself). So many people fall into a deep sleep that every other stop is heralded by the sound of someone hurriedly trying to gather their possessions before the train pulls off, leaving them in the lurch.
If a normal train service is the Devil’s housewarming party then the rail replacement bus service is the Devil’s gangrape. Stinking of spirits and clutching to the seat in front of him, a man in his early forties turned to me on one of the buses and wheezed in mono-syllabic utterances, “New. Hay. Van. Uhh?” Quickly realising that he was enquiring whether Newhaven was the final destination, I said, patiently, “No, you need to get off and catch the bus behind you”.
“Oh, thank you” he mumbled, remaining steadfast in his seat, looking out at the people clambering aboard, having clearly forgotten the conversation we held three seconds previously.
The same routine occurred while the engine was revving up. Telling him once more to get off the bus, it made no impact whatsoever, despite his repeated and ever-louder protestations that he needed to go home to Newhaven. I may be quite strong, but I’d sooner drink Special Brew through a drug-dealer’s unsterilised needle than lift a drunken man off the bus. So I kept quiet, ignoring his shouts of “Where are we? Who are you” and my personal favourite, “I’m such a bad boyfriend”.
When the inevitable happened and we arrived at Polegate, he rounded on me, asking why I hadn’t told him to get off, while the other passengers quickly filed off the bus, giving me nary a backward glass. There may come a time in the future when all conversations are recorded on a national database but this policy is yet to be implemented, so I had no proof that I had repeatedly told him to get off. Luckily, his third bottle of Farmer’s Grouse must have kicked in at that point, as he slumped on his chair, snoring and muttering but utterly harmless.
The vehicles rarely help matters. They spend most of the year in storage, so they build up dust which is emitted every time someone sits down, leaving the passenger confused as to whether they should choke and reach for a handkerchief or say “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…”
It doesn’t help that most train users can probably afford a taxi on the occasions when trains aren’t running, leaving the dregs of the travel community to cluster on the top deck discussing Danni Minogue’s hair, Cheryl Cole’s latest single and wondering which one of Jedward the girls most want to bone.