/ Travel & Leisure

I changed jobs and moved house to avoid my commuting hell

The disruption to my commute was so persistent and severe, I decided to move several hundred miles away and took a pay cut to avoid the journey, writes our guest Jonathan Lee-Smith…

For two years I commuted daily from Blackpool to Manchester, using Northern Rail for all or part of each journey, but the regular disruption due to engineering works made me so unhappy I ultimately left my job and moved to another part of the country.

Between the summer of 2016 and 2018, I suffered regular problems with my daily commute – trains were either delayed, cancelled or overcrowded.

Guide: best and worst UK train companies

The standard time between the 2 stations is around 80 minutes for a journey of 50 miles, however this was rarely achieved.

Regularly my shift at work finished at 10pm in Manchester and I wouldn’t be getting home in Blackpool until after 1am.

Similar delays in the mornings, meant my working day including commute would regularly exceed 14 hours a day, and in the end I couldn’t hack it.

Train pain

The cause of the delays were engineering works closing different parts of the line over this period.

The replacement buses were actually good, but it was the connecting services that were an issue.

They were horribly uncomfortable and difficult to rely on. These trains often had fewer carriages as well – meaning services were often overcrowded.

Hell on earth

I’m a great rail enthusiast, so criticising any element of  the UK rail network does not fill me with pleasure – but my journey to and from work had become like hell on earth and it was affecting my personal life.

Before the problems started I used to have time to meet my friends in the pub for an hour or so. I couldn’t do that anymore. It made me tired and miserable. It was affecting my sleep.

I was just sleeping and working. It got to the point where I wasn’t happy with anything so I decided to make a change. I couldn’t offer the commitment to my employer; it wasn’t fair on them or me.

Drastic change

So I took a long hard look at the effect the commute was having on my work/life balance and my ability to carry out my job and realised none of it was worth it.

I gave up, quit my job and moved house. I needed a radical change – and a new job which wouldn’t involve so much commuting.

I ended up taking a job in Devon, living and working in a hotel, which is very different from what I was doing previously.

I had to leave all my friends and my social life behind. I’d built a decent career, been promoted twice and was earning a decent wage. Now I’m on two-thirds of what I was before, but don’t have to pay for travel.

This is a guest post by Jonathan Lee-Smith. All views expressed are Jonathan’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

How reliable is your commute to work? Would you consider moving house or job to avoid a difficult journey to and from work? Please share your stories.

Commuters: is your rail commute often disrupted?

Yes – usually every week. (55%, 398 Votes)

Yes – every few weeks. (22%, 161 Votes)

It's a rare occurrence. (13%, 90 Votes)

No - no problems. (10%, 71 Votes)

Total Voters: 720

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Paul Brown says:
29 January 2019

My local station is East Croydon which is mainly serviced by Thameslink and Southern – two of the worst performing rail companies in the UK. On Saturday I was waiting for a train north into central London to visit my son. Al trains were delayed by between 10 to 30 minutes. What amused me was the variety of excuses used by the recorded message system for the same delay – the same train! It varied from “behind a slow-moving train” to “an earlier cancellation” to “someone pulling the emergency switch”. This often happens and has prompted me, and fellow passengers with whom I discuss the absurdity of the messaging system, to speculate that the actual excuse used is a product of a process that selects the excuse randomly from a prepared list as the announcement is made.

John Harrop says:
29 January 2019

I cannot understand why one should not pay the true cost including that of the capital investment for any service.
If you wish to work at a distance from home for whatever reason one must pay the cost of transport, or more sensibly live near to the job or accept one that is near home.
It is totally unreasonable to expect others to subsidise you through taxes or other non related payments.

Ellen says:
30 January 2019

What a ludicrous statement. Oh yes, let’s all move to London and pay the same rent for a small room as we would for a house or flat elsewhere, away from lives we have already invested in and family and friends. It is totally unreasonable to pay thousands of pounds for a service that consistently fails and affects careers and home lives. People generally only have the choice of one trainline, there is no other option. And if everyone in my town decided to work locally there would not be enough jobs to go around! The city is where better salaries and career opportunities are available, and we should not have to pay an ever increasing price for what we are forced to put up with. Would you expect something to be done if you bought a physical product and it failed to work time and time again? I don’t expect to be ‘subsidized’ but the fact the companies can continually raise prices and rake in the profits is particularly galling for people who have to put up with the failings on a daily basis.

Commuters are subsidised ( in the sense that season tickets are cheaper than buying individual tickets as far as I know ) and commuting can never be a trouble free service given the increasingly high loading on limited tracks that is only required to operate for two relatively brief periods in the day. As far as I recall it has never been much different. Just as the roads are overloaded in the two rush hours creating delays and frustration. those who decide to commute surely do so in this knowledge.

Huge amounts are being spent in the south east to try to improve matters. Quite why a year’s delay was not foreseen is beyond me, however.

The concept is untenable and we need longer term solutions. One is to spread out working hours so the rush hour is diluted to two or three.

More sensible, in my view, would be to take employers away from the overcrowded areas and encourage them to settle somewhere better where commuting is less of an issue (and houses are more readily available). But if London is the only place you can ever consider working, for the rewards it might offer, and you can’t afford to spend some of those rewards on local housing, then the penalties attached to commuting are, sadly, going to remain as far as I can see.

Andy says:
31 January 2019

The Government set the main price rises not the TOC, and by the time the lease fees, Govt subsidies and operating costs have been paid that leavesd about 3% profit which isn’t that good for a business. The real people making money from this are the finance companies who brought up all the stock from the Govt at the start of privatisation and lease it to the TOCs.

Richard N says:
29 January 2019

My local station is Meopham and I commute to Blackfriars. Southeastern run 1 direct morning train and 2 evening return direct services. I don’t think I’ve had an on-time arrival this year but I have had a 29.5 minute delay when the train went past a set of signals just outside Blackfriars one morning . The train is old and very worn out with badly dirty seats, stretched seat covers and generally looks like it should have been refurbished years ago. Toilets are often unusable. I have also started considering retiring rather than continuing with the despicable service South Eastern provides for the ridiculous cost.

I have not been on a train for approx 35 years but that does not stop me from making this point “What is wrong with the thinking of those people who run the railways. The British invented the steam train many years ago and other countries picked up on that and developed their own (mostly better) The point Iwant to make is countries that have been devasted by conflicts (Japan,Germany,China etc) have the best rail networks in the world and are effective and run on time

Some companies have had frequent strikes for over three years and when they return rolling stock is in the wrong place causing more delays.

Brian Kidd says:
1 February 2019

Hi. I – thankfully have retired now, but never used the trains anyway. I can fully understand the gentleman giving up his job and moving away. It must be a big rench, but eventually with a better quality of life it should work out for him. There are frequently “stand in buses” between Deal, Dover &Folkestone, for “for planned engineering work”. When the hell is all of this work going to be completed I wonder?

One has to ask the question.Is a long commute, a longer working day worth the extra money in the end. You pay tax and N I then most of what is left you have to pay out in massive fares!

I would like to see Northern remove from the railway operating companies, they were given their franchise to run trains, which they clearly are not, they are not doing what they were paid to do and they are in breach of their contract. As for the workers dispute about removing guards off the trains, just don’t get me going on this one, Northern are not going to sort this out, when being bank rolled by this rotten to the core government.

Err . . . Northern Rail were given assurances by the Department for Transport that much of their key routes would have been electrified long ago but it hasn’t happened yet. So brand new or refurbished electric trains are in store unable to run on the un-electrified lines. Insufficient diesel trains are available to run a full service.

They are also short of rolling stock because they were directed to release trains to other operating companies and also, in the expectation of replacing their elderly diesel trains, they stopped carrying out full overhauls and scheduled maintenance. Let’s put the blame where it lies – with the Department for Transport.

The strikes are the responsibility of the irresponsible trade union.

Every weekday it’s hit and miss whether we get the first train of the day in the morning. It originally departed Sydenham for London Bridge @ 5:25 arriving @ approx. 5:45, unless delays, cancellations due to missing staff, whether due to weather too cold for them to bother getting out of bed or points failures due to over antiquated systems, yet they have plenty of money to expand London Bridge for more trains to be delayed due to an antiquated points system, not to mention the Crossrail fiasco.
Then last year they permanently delayed it till 5:32 which usually means much later or never.
I decided to go by bus, which worked out fine until I found a schedule to suit me, then the buses started messing me about!
I mentioned this to my manager, who thankfully understands the situation, and agreed with others with similar transport problems to come in late but regularly. But still it’s NOT ON!

I believe that Which? should campaign to highlight the problem of overcrowding to the relevant authorities and urge them to make it mandatory for the correct provision of train carriages to be allocated according to the crowd estimates per train on a rail companies’ network. What should also be mandatory is to ensure that every person travelling on a particular train can be seated guaranteed. I myself have suffered as a result of overcrowding on a train and it is not pleasant.