/ Travel & Leisure

Can’t rely on your train? Make a commuter chum


Can making friends with your fellow travellers help you ease your train pain?

As a London Midland commuter, I’ve discovered that there’s a great deal of camaraderie among the crowd who share my commute every weekday morning and evening.

Even though most mornings are met with an awkward jostle to get onto the train first and grab a seat before they all go (which they very often do), when there’s a delay or cancellation, we all seem to club together.

Euston: we have a problem

Earlier this month, as I was sorting out the final bits for the day, I received a text from my other half (another commuter) warning me about the pandemonium at Euston station. It had been evacuated earlier and there were crowds of people all waiting outside, trying to get home.

I took to Twitter to find out what was going on and it emerged that a track fire had damaged around 100m of cabling. This meant that no trains would be leaving Euston for the rest of the day.

‘Great,’ I thought. ‘How are we going to get home?’

Train trouble

As I discovered from the sea of tweets from other London Midland passengers, a replacement bus service was running out of Euston. Ticket acceptance was in place on other train services, too.

A call came in from my boyfriend who had, by then, met a fellow commuter who’d recognised him from his daily commute. They’d agreed to join forces to get home.

With no information at Euston as to what was going on, I explained what I’d read on Twitter.

Agreeing that the bus was an unfavourable option given the amount of people stranded, I travelled to meet them at Marylebone.

There we were joined by the other commuter’s girlfriend, and the four of us agreed to travel as close to home as possible on public transport and then share a taxi.

Commuter camaraderie

But this isn’t the first time my fellow commuters have come to my aid.

On another occasion, my train randomly terminated a few stops early. As there were no more trains running that day, those of us left stranded did a quick tally of each other’s destinations and organised a taxi home, sharing the cost between us.

Now, I feel fairly fortunate with my commute. From the thousands of stories shared with us as part of our My Train Hell campaign, I know it could be a lot worse.

But after a year of commuting, my overwhelming experience has been that for the thousands of pounds I spend on travel, when things do go wrong it isn’t the train company that fixes things for me, rather my fellow commuters.

I’ve also recently discovered that there are several social media groups for my local area where fellow train travellers share information about train problems and call for commuters to share taxis. I guess I’ll be joining them…

Do you have a train friend or have you ever clubbed together with your fellow passengers after you’ve been stranded by a train? Do you think the train operator did enough to help its passengers at the time?


Commuting places a huge stress on transport resources whether road or rail. It creates a great imbalance at two periods in the day. Those who commute do so knowing this and should accept they need to cope with it – short term. What we should be doing is thinking how we can avoid, or gradually lessen, the wasteful commute – wasteful in money, time and resources. We should be locating work, particularly major employers, nearer where people choose to live father than being obsessed with London and other conurbations. There are, for example, many very pleasant locations around London where people live that would be ideal as business centres. Government could take a lead if they had any foresight. If you need to travel to a meeting, access is easy and quick and need not be at peak time.

Which? could demonstrate the advantages of this instead of expanding its Marylebone base. It does not need, in the main, a London base and I bet many staff would prefer a cleaner location in a nicer place, Hertfordshire isn’t bad.

Phil says:
1 May 2017

Which? claim they need a London base because they have to be close to Westminster so they can lobby MPs. Utter rubbish in the 21st century. Back in the 1980’s there were plans to move the bulk of their London operations to MK into a purpose built building which would be shared with the testing laboratory. Sadly recession put paid to that plan, the laboratory alone moved to MK in the mid 90s but was sold off in 2003.

I have always thought a very small presence at 2 Marylebone Rd. and sub-let out the rest of the building. Given , I believe over £10m has been spent adding a floor and roof garden, the building may be in an eminently rentable state.

We could then re-locate the bulk of the organisation out of London. I was able to compare what we paid mortgage advisers in London and Bristol and it was a basic salary difference of £5000. That if carried out through the staff would equate to some serious savings.

Cheaper subscriptions and/or a more aggressive attitude to tackling stories of consumer concern would be possible.

It cannot be a that charging over £130 a year for a magazine is a viable business model given the restricted coverage of products. There are other reasons to be concerned that Which? is eroding its hard-won reputation as the consumer champion.

In passing , given Marylebone is the most polluted street in London is there not a duty of care to staff to move them somewhere fresher and rent the building to some concern with an uncaring attitude to health and commuting costs.

Phil says:
3 May 2017

Which? don’t own the building it’s held leasehold from Crown Estates so I’m not sure about sub-letting. They must need the extra floor by now, the place was too small when they moved in because the bright spark who worked out how much space was needed forgot to make an allowance for corridors. The situation wasn’t helped by big headed directors who insisted on having huge offices to themselves.

With the wide variety of online review sites relating real buyer experiences you do wonder if Which? has a future as a “dead tree” publication especially at that price.

I was astonished today to read on the BBC site of the chaotic state of the bus “network” in Manchester. With 79% of journeys done by buses who compete on profitable routes it seems as though something is very wrong.

” Passengers across the region are using buses run by more than 20 bus operators (competing to serve 500 bus services) and are faced with 100 different ticketing types with varying prices and offers……. ..
Others detail other problems – how they’ve missed buses because they didn’t take cards, how seasonal tickets couldn’t be used on buses run by different firms and how some annual student passes didn’t include the summer holiday period at the end of the year.”

What gets me is that we must have very few Which? members/staff in Manchester as it has never been mentioned in Conversations or by Which?. Or is there a Regional Which? I don’t subscribe to?

I was similarly astonished by that article , Patrick. The deregulation of bus services has had dreadful consequences in most big towns and cities. Nottingham is an outstanding exception where the chief operator, Nottingham City Transport, is still majority-owned by the city council although there are many other operators with the same problems of incompatibility of ticket types and fares and inconsistent frequencies. Basically, it’s a free-for-all and I was glad to see that, in Manchester at least, the new Mayor was expected to implement some long overdue service quality improvements and a rational service structure.

Which? is far too metrocentric and really needs to get out more. I am sure there must be many members/subscribers in Greater Manchester but I expect they are sick of being constantly overlooked and fed the London line.

I heartily agree, John. Many of the topics in here reflect life in the SE, the train one being particularly noticeable.

I would very much like a Convo on buses, Lauren, though I’m not offering to produce one. My interest is mainly to promote the benefit of park & ride schemes and the need for more.

Thing is, Lauren, you’ve waited a long time for a Bus topic, and now you’ll probably get three or four coming along all at the same time…

Fifty-five years ago I would have jumped at the chance to do a piece on buses but I am no longer up to speed. Deregulation of public bus services has produced a patchwork of operations and conditions that is very difficult to get a handle on outside a specific area. However, there must be someone out there [possibly in the columns of one of the specialist bus magazines or enthusiast societies] with the knowledge and interest to introduce a discussion. The government [Department for Transport] promotes public transport and might even have a minister responsible for bus services. Generally county councils and metropolitan transport organisations have varying powers of influence over the services operated and seem to have some authority over stopping places and timetables; they also have the power to subsidise uncommercial services. The government’s and the devolved administrations’ main role seems to be to fund the older persons’ concessionary travel pass; the age criteria and applicability vary in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The government and the devolved administrations might also help to develop and fund bus priority measures.

One of the train companies, but I can’t remember which, produces a helpful leaflet [and it is displayed on stations in poster form] showing various alternative routes in the event of disruption on any of its lines. This should be a franchise requirement. Some stations are within walking distance or a short bus ride of others but people used to diagrammatic maps [like the London UndergrounD map] might not be aware.

When I was a regular commuter into London from Hertfordshire I worked out how to continue my journey from any point on the route and I think most people did the same in those days when unreliability was a fact of life. We also got to know our fellow travellers fairly well because we were packed into compartments with a door at each end and six seats either side with knees touching. We usually ‘adopted’ our compartment and repelled boarders further up the line!

It was madness at Finsbury Park in north London because there were three routes into London: to Broad Street [adjacent to Liverpool Street], Moorgate, and King’s Cross. The morning peak trains arrived almost simultaneously from the branches and occupied adjacent platforms at Finsbury Park. I would be in the middle one which had a platform on both sides. People would exit left and right for their intended destinations, meanwhile other commuters would join our train from either side and yet more would come in from the left and go out to the right [or vice versa] as they used our train as a passageway to get to their service in the adjoining platform.

I think commuting must be boring nowadays, and very expensive too.

Been commuting for 15 years between Coventry and Euston, got to know fellow commuters particularly well when there were train delays. We’ve been out for Xmas, and will What’s App each other when we’re stuck at Euston resulting in meeting The Crown and Anchor. Reiterating that the train companies don’t take the initiative when traveling from Coventry if the a West Coast line is down one of us will drive to Warwick Parkway to travel on the Chiltern line. We’ve also shared cabs from Leamington to Coventry as train staff at Leamington seen to mysteriously disappear when we’ve missed the last connection e.g. to the aforementioned ‘Pandemonium at Euston’.

There was talk of Southern passengers chartering trains for commuters to get round the silly dispute that blights their lives. I think it came to nothing.

I think we should realise that simply putting more and more demands on just two peak periods of weekdays, with the rolling stock and staff that are not used for most of the rest of the time, is grossly inefficient and unsustainable. We need to think ahead to other solutions – including relocating the workplace, either virtual or real, and staggering working hours. Simply asking for more of the same cannot continue.

It does seem to me that travelling so far, taking probably 4-5 hours a day, and costing £5600 a year after tax is such a waste of time and money. HS2 will encourage well-healed people to commute even further. Having said that, I chose to drive an 86 mile round trip to work to avoid having to relocate my home. I wonder why we don’t take the plunge and campaign for both relocated places of work and staggered working hours.

I cannot see how commuting is a good way to use our time, but it seems something we are all quite willing to do, as Metroland capitalised on a hundred years ago.

” but it seems something we are all quite willing to do ”

Well count me out of that claim. The most I have ever lived from work is probably 12 miles and for many jobs I could and did walk to work. Even thirty years ago the logic of walking to exercise the lungs and body and avoid paying to travel were considerations for me.

I actively avoided working in London even when living in south London I chose to travel out rather than in. Being a sardine and breathing dirty air never rated highly on my must have experiences.

I travelled three miles to the university where I studied and then worked. When I moved jobs, working close to my place of work was a high priority and my daily commute was 1.7 miles. Like Patrick, I did not want to live in London and I remember telling our careers adviser when I was at school.