“Collecting quotes made by railways staff for the late arrival of the train is something of a (minor) British past time and definitely a skill required for any foreigner looking to integrate themselves into English society.” –Stuart Burns, MetalMiner website.
Okay, so I wasn’t exactly lost. But that’s sure what it felt like.
I’d made plans to go up to Liverpool yesterday–strange idea for a day trip, I know, but with London Midlands rail service offering a day’s unlimited travel for only £10, it seemed worthwhile. Who cares if the city is as close to Edinburgh as it is to London, right? I’d looked up train times and felt relatively confident the day would be a shining success.
Getting there was fine, even if it was half an hour later than the timetable said it would be, but when I went to catch the return train, there was no 18:28 departure for London Euston–only an 18:47 that would require me switching trains at both Birmingham and Northampton. By the time we reached London nearly five hours later (nevermind the timetable had assured me it would be half that), I’d missed the last train home. Thus began a Tube journey spanning 24 stops and a half hour bus ride from Richmond to Kingston. When I reached home at 1:15am, I felt as if I’d circumnavigated the globe.
And to think it only took four hours to get to Cologne.
Again, last Thursday, Transport for London’s website told me a bus would come by my flat at 8:11, dropping me off just in time to catch my 8:27 express train to Waterloo. At 8:17, the bus still hadn’t come and I started walking, even though I knew it was a twelve minute walk. And I was right–the train pulled away just as I sprinted up the station stairs, leaving me to catch the 8:32 slow train and arrive at work twenty minutes late, sweaty and stewing with anger. (To anyone who might have seen me storming down the sidewalk, hurling expletives beneath my breath, please accept my most sincere apologies.)
What is your deal? I asked once I got to my desk, sitting myself down on the figurative couch for a good talking to like any parent would to a child in need of some serious chastizing. Are these delays really worth getting that upset over? Then I realized: I have no problem with waiting, with adapting to crazy stopovers and expired timetables–given the circumstances. In Egypt, I watched almost amusedly as what was supposed to be a 10-hour overnight trip from Cairo to Luxor turn into fifteen hours. In Tahiti, I didn’t mind being told to show up an hour early to catch a bus to the other side of the island–even if that meant a 5.30am wake-up call. And in Fiji, I couldn’t have cared less the bus took the long way home–especially when that included a brief detour down the beach.
But I think I expect something different from a country like England–a country whose 2010-11 government budget includes £22 billion for transport. I expect to be able to look up a train timetable or bus schedule on TFL and for said means of transport to both show up and deliver me when it says it will. I expect promptness, directness, and efficiency…but who am I kidding, right? In “Swiss Movement,” a recent article for Lonely Planet Magazine on a Swiss rail journey, Tahir Shah lauds the precision of the country’s train service:
“In most countries, changing trains tends to be a sordid ordeal of waiting and of discomfort. But, as I prepare to board my onward train, I am reminded again that Switzerland is different. This is a land in which rail travel is still a genteel pursuit, one of enjoyment rather than endurance. The station masters are well dressed and courteous, the platforms clean, the efficiency of the system as reliable as a Rolex Oyster Perpetual.”
I wish I could do the same. England, take a hint from the Swiss. It’s no lie your public transport system is in shambles, I just wish it didn’t toy with my sanity so.