Last Sunday, of all things, it fell to me as the possessor of a senior Railcard to travel by train from Richmond in Surrey to Bicester – ordinarily a 90 minute drive up the M40 beyond Oxford if one is allowed to make it – which I am currently not, the court authorities having recently deemed fit to “take me off the road” for a period of six months due to me having amassed a total of 12 speeding points.
Here, for enlightenment and/or entertainment of Rusters, I present life as it is experienced in the 21st Century when travelling upon the railway system of Great Britain.
In actual fact I intended to do quite a bit of travelling last Sunday.
Firstly, a journey from Richmond to Bicester Village (cost £18.60 courtesy of the Trainline app as discounted thanks to my status as a senior Railcard holder) – later to be followed by a train journey from Bicester Village to Chichester in West Sussex (price £45).
The travails of the day … er … began at the very beginning.
I rose early in order to gather my belongings for the trip and walk to Richmond Station by 0714 hours, the start-time given me on the E-ticket that Trainline had sent me and asked me to print off.
Upon arrival at the station I learned that the entire railway system of south-west London had been devastated for the weekend by the impact of that infamous but well-oiled general excuse “engineering works”.
There were no trains currently running from Richmond – and I needed to get to Marylebone Station in north-ish central London for the trip to Bicester Village.
Instead – I was informed – there was a replacement bus service running which (in my case I was informed) would take me as far as Barnes. This service was already running from Bus Stop “Z” outside the station so that is to where I re-located.
After three consecutive buses had come by Bus Stop “Z”, each of them going on exclusively to Hounslow – and nowhere near Barnes – I began to press my internal metaphorical “panic button”.
A few minutes later I spotted a taxi approaching from the main A316 road end of town with its yellow light “on”.
I hailed said vehicle and asked how much it would cost me for the driver to take me direct to Marylebone Station. “£30-plus …” he estimated. Even though this was nearly twice what the entire train ride to Bicester Village was costing me, I felt in the circumstances “needs must” and hopped on board.
About 35 minutes later – and £40 lighter (the trip had actually costs me £37-something as per the taxi cab’s meter, but I had handed over four crisp £10 notes and told the driver to keep the change) – I arrived at Marylebone, where the next “intervention of Fate” occurred.
As I walked through into the station forecourt – laden with a knapsack, a hold-all and a shopping bag containing two bottles of decent whiskey as my present to my son-in-law for his 40th birthday party, the celebratory lunch of which I had been unable to attend due to being in recent contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid – I was greeted by an announcement that all trains running from Marylebone were cancelled until further notice (It was by now 0755 hours).
I made my way to the nearest ticket office counter and asked for a “situation report”. At the moment all trains had been temporarily cancelled because the Central Line wasn’t running … and other issues.
I asked where I might buy a newspaper and was directed towards a mini-mart on Baker Street “about six to eight minutes’ walk away”.
It was ten actually.
When I returned, things had improved. Trains had officially re-started. However, there remained a slight issue for me personally – the first train out of Marylebone to Bicester Village was not due until 1042 hours … and it was now approximately 0820 hours. I was therefore facing a two hour 20 minute wait on a station thoroughfare which boasted two small coffee stalls and an apparent maximum of about thirty seats.
Two hours and ten minutes later the Bicester Village train had arrived and I went on board to find a place to sit.
I duly arrived in Bicester, was met at the station by members of my family, and walked with them to a local shopping area and an outlet of an Italian chain of restaurants for a spot of lunch.
A 90 minute lunch was by now all the time that I could enjoy in Bicester if I was to later reach Chichester by my intended next rendezvous commitment of 1728 hours.
However, that was not quite the end of my story.
On my “return” journey, I arrived back at Marylebone station and took the Tube from there – changing at Oxford Circus – to Victoria station, from where the Portsmouth Harbour trains traditionally leave the metropolis (stopping at Chichester on the way).
Upon buying myself some Sunday papers for the trip and going to the main concourse to consult the massive electronic “Trains and Times” board high in the air, I found the next Portsmouth Harbour train (and departing platform number) … only to then hear a PA announcement “All trains to the south coast are now temporarily halted due to signalling problems at Crawley …”
This produced another delay that was later announced to be 40 minutes, during which period – simply to keep on the move – I took an earlier train that was passing through Clapham Junction, via which the Portsmouth Harbour train would later be travelling (stopping on Platform 13 on the way, where I could join it in the required front four coaches that wouldn’t be later going to Bognor Regis).
This I did.
I eventually reached Chichester station at eight minutes shy of 1900 hours.