I cannot remember which Southern railways franchise has been getting all the flak for the past few years but it’s entirely possible that it’s the one that sends trains from the London terminals down towards Portsmouth Harbour upon which I travelled to Chichester in West Sussex yesterday morning.
Travelling by train is not something I do in normal circumstances and so I trust Rust readers will excuse me for using it my subject today. The scheme – arranged by a member of my staff – was that I would travel to Clapham Junction and there join my train (frequency two per hour as advertised) to the south coast.
I had specifically asked about the issue of the train splitting in two somewhere, possibly around Three Bridges – the one part to go on to Portsmouth Harbour and the other in the direction of Bognor Regis. This was because of more than one frustrating incident I’ve had in the past as a result of which I ended up in the wrong place and then had to spend more than ninety extra minutes extra reaching my intended destination.
Back came the answer that it was an unbroken direct route. I even double-checked this by phone when I reached the allotted Platform 13 at Clapham Junction at which I was to step up into the train concerned. It was definitely a direct route.
Only, of course, it wasn’t.
No sooner had I settled into one of the few remaining seats (the bulk of passengers, I later discovered, were on their way to Gatwick Airport and after which the carriages became relatively unpopulated), I tried to establish myself with a book for the journey.
As we picked up speed en route to the next stop (East Croydon) my quiet enjoyment was interrupted by an in-carriage announcement that immediately filled me with concern if not dread:
“Please note that this train divides at Horsham. The front four coaches will be going on to Portsmouth Harbour and the remainder will be going on to Bognor Regis. Make sure you are in the correct section …”
I had no idea which section of the train I was in. I had paid no attention to this aspect because I had been assured that the train was going direct to Portsmouth Harbour with no change(s) required.
There followed a slight pause and then another announcement hit the airwaves:
“You are currently sitting in the fifth carriage …”
That meant, if I stayed where I was, within the next forty minutes or so I would be destined for Bognor Regis. Never mind King George V’s infamous retort, when ill and being reminded by a courtier that among the positive things in his life still to come was a vacation trip there – that he didn’t give an (expletive-deleted) jot about Bognor, it certainly wasn’t a place that I wished to visit yesterday.
Accordingly, having prepared myself for this arduous mission by collecting my things together and standing at the nearest exit/entrance door for the fifteen minutes or so it took to get there, I had to leap out onto the crowded East Croydon platform and sprint as fast as my legs would take me to the next carriage forward along.
My relief upon reaching my goal and finding a seat by a window – and then hearing via the next routine intercom announcement that I was now in carriage 4 – was total.
The remainder of my trip to Chichester was spent in relatively quiet contemplation (well, it would have been but for the two young sales executives sitting opposite who – in almost deliberately loud voices – were discussing the various nefarious ways by which they made sales pitches to members of the public, overriding and/or circumnavigating any objections they received as they did so).
En route between Barnham and Chichester – traversing the flood plain that stretches as far as Arundel along the south coast – I noticed that huge swathes of the numerous countryside meadows were seriously affected by flooding.
I would never have become aware of that had I had been travelling by car.