/ 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?
Loading ... Loading ...

I travelled to and from school on the number 4 bus, which often let me down. I decided that I never wanted to commute. For most of my working life I lived 1.7 miles away from where I worked – a short drive or a pleasant walk on a nice day. Unfortunately, cycling was not a safe option.

I hope that others will do what Johnathan has done, but our society needs to recognise the practical and environmental problems that commuting creates.

I commuted by road for many years simply because the work I did was not available near home and family and location took precedence. I tolerated it but it was far from ideal. We hear many complaints about rail delays , compensation, service but very little about the other huge group of commuters who face road works, congestion, and other delays on an overcrowded road network.

Not practising what I preach, I accept, but I would like to see a policy to move jobs away from congested areas that give commuters problems to areas that are nicer, have better availability of housing, and could use local employment. I’d also like to see staggered working hours to relieve some of the overcrowding on road and rail. We cannot continue loading more and more commuters onto an already overstretched transport network in peak times.

My local Northern Rail Service trains are now older than the outdated DMUs they replaced in 1984. Perhaps I should not complain, the line was scheduled to be closed in 1970s, but is still going. New trains keep being promised, but always go elsewhere. Rural services are vital, but perhaps, not in the North.

After two return journeys from Grimsby to Manchester Airport and return, which were disasterous – i now travel by car and park at Manchester Airport. That journey takes about the same time – one way, on one occaison it ran late reulting in over crowding, and the other time about an hour late. That was Transpenine Trains! I got the felling that we, their Customers, were there to serve them – not them us. We have a large Family visiting from Australia mid-year – they will be hiring a minibus to travel the UK and thus deprive the Rail Network of valuable income. It appears that the Unions are one part of the problem and the other abysmal management.

Getting to my job in London, my commute is 90 minutes each way when it is running perfectly, this happens as often as I win the lottery! it is potluck most days as to what time I arrive in morning and get home at night. As for getting a seat to sit in, well I truly cannot remember the last time that happened.

Presumably your 90 minute commute has compensations for where you choose to live? I think we all know what we are going to expect when we choose to commute; I was under no illusions when I did. Commuting in my experience over many years has always had problems, delays, overcrowding so most of us presumably choose to do it in that knowledge?

Ann Smith says:
25 January 2019

Since retiring, until 3 years ago, during the Summer months (so no weather issues) I did occasional days as an Invigilator for London University. It meant a very early start on Southern rail. I had to be at the examination halls 90 minutes before the exam was due to start, in order to assist with all the administrative arrangements involved, (arranging the room, setting out exam papers and cards bearing candidates numbers etc.) All absolutely vital to the smooth running of the system.
Eventually I had to abandon this job where I had made several friends, because I simply couldn’t rely on the train running on time and I hated being late all the time.
Due to this experience, I discovered just what it would be like to be a daily commuter. Clearly things haven’t improved!

Peter Scott says:
25 January 2019

The journey from Barrow-In-Furness to Carlisle on Northern Rail is archaic.
T he trains are cast off (old DMU) they are dirty, uncomfortable, and belong to a different age. The long running RMT dispute means no service on Saturday and the Sunday schedule means no trains from Whitehaven going South.
This line will never generate profit as its sparsely populated and the journey is so slow. One hour to travel 40 miles between Whitehaven and Carlisle…
HS2 it is not!!!!

Each new job I’ve taken on has always involved moving house, so I’ve been able to exercise a lot of control over any daily commutes into my home base.

Until a few years ago, I always preferred to commute by motorbike, but, after my last move 8 years ago, I moved to a house within walking distance of work. That was a nice change, because it is nice not to have to spend a lot of time traveling to and from work.

As I’m now a semi-retired consultant, I mostly work from home, so I don’t spend any time commuting.

I feel extremely sorry for your situation. I take it you considered all the pros and cons when you either bought your out of area house or accepted the out of area job. The fact that you relied on a man made mode of transport the train you must have considered that it would need repair similar to your car. surely you accounted against the train fare and cost of fuel for your car. The traffic jams on the road and the people jams at the stations. In reality you appear to have miscalculated and mabe ignored the march of time. I hope you have the future you have planned.

When I first moved to Bromley 20+ years ago, my commute into central London was great, and took about half an hour to 40 minutes. Now, even if it runs to schedule (rare) it takes at least 50 minutes, as they keep padding out the timetable. I’m typically delayed by 15-30 minutes, both ways, every day. Endless problems with Southeastern and Network Rail are making me actively contemplate a similar change in lifestyle this year, and a move away from south east London where public transport into central London has become impossibly unreliable, overcrowded and horrible (and the ‘metro’ line trains are the only option – no DLR or trams or Overground have materialised over the years in my area, and Crossrail comes nowhere near us either). Information provision is terrible, and cancellations frequent. There appears to be no political interest in resolving the issues, and the franchise gets repeatedly extended without any examination of performance. The lengthy ‘improvements’ at London Bridge actually made things worse on my line (yay!), and the signalling infrastructure was not tackled at all, so all we have really is a prettier station to gaze upon as we wait for ‘pathway’. Signal failures and broken down trains cause near-daily disruption, and sometimes utter chaos. Not what we were promised, and we pay more and more and more, but no-one is held to account. So I have to vote with my feet.

Leighton Morris says:
25 January 2019

I have regular problems with both Northern Rail and Transport for Wales (Formerly Arriva Trains).
I travel regularly to Manchester Airport but always have to have a back up plan in case trains are late or cancelled. Worst experience so far was getting stranded at Wilmslow Station with full luggage at 10pm at night. The connection train was cancelled 15 minutes before it was due to arrive so had to wait over an hour for the next train on a platform with no indoor seating area and a single vending machine that sold only crisps and chocolate. When visiting countries like Japan and Switzerland and experiencing how well their rail system works, I do wonder why we keep getting it so wrong in the UK!

Evelyn Dunstan says:
25 January 2019

I used to commute into Manchester from Mossley by train. I complained to our MP about the service which was often disrupted by delays and not enough capacity on the train. Apparently when the franchise had been awarded to Northern Rail no plan had been made for increased demand, and housing was being built along most of the line as Manchester was a great magnet for employment, as you might imagine. You really couldn’t make this up – appalling lack of foresight and not caring that so many people suffered as a result.

Dr Ian Magrath says:
25 January 2019

How does YOUR ‘toc’ (Train Operating Company) tick? Your ‘commute’ (that’s commuted fare for regular travellers – how does that square with the year-end fare rise?) may make you feel that you are the victim of a repeated ‘heist’ as the Tocs are discourage from lengthening your overcrowded train by having to pay the ‘going’ (sic) hire rate charged by the Roscos (Rolling Stock Companies). It’s a Stickup!

Ellie says:
25 January 2019

I commute from Chorley in Lancs to Manchester each day for work. My commute should be an hour each way, acceptable and not too long a day. I very rarely get to and from work in an hour, with trains often cancelled, delayed or over crowded. My employer is very understanding, I work flexible hours and work from home one day a week. Without the flexibility my employer offers me and being able to work from home i would have no doubly have had to either move house or moved jobs. I enjoy my job and work for a fab team but my commute makes it hard going some days. The total lack of communication from Northern some days makes it difficult to decide whether to abandon my journey or wait.

Maine says:
25 January 2019

Train companies are just completely terrible and unreliable – Its the luck of the draw whether you arrive at your destination or not – you cannot plan or be absolutely certain you would. My latest encounter happened when I had planned and made arrangements to get to a meeting early in the morning. This was an important meeting and I arranged for my child to be looked after overnight so I could catch the early train and make it into work on time. I left home at 6:30am, got to the station in time for a 7:01am train but the train driver was late. I wasn’t too bothered at this point as I thought I had 45mins buffer and I was expected to arrive 45 mins early at my destination London(Was I terribly mistaken). The train got delayed due to congestion at the destination train station(Liverpool street) and I eventually missed my meeting despite all the sacrifices and efforts made. Now yes- you get compensation of half one way ticket but the cost to me were:
Cost of childcare to prepare and arrive at this meeting
Cost of professional integrity (further implications leading to reduced self worth)
Loss of job and income due to missed meeting
Emotional stress due to time and effort wasted
Deprived time with family
My point is the cost of the train delays for no obvious/apparent reason is immense to customers and for the sake of the country and everyone’s sanity, the train companies need to be more professional and actually deliver good services for commuters. My anger and frustration towards train companies is immense but everyone feels helpless as what can we do but to change our lifestyles in order to avoid the terrible incompetence of these train companies. Except we all live next door to work which unfortunately not everyone can do and unless companies buy homes next door to everyone and turn them into offices/industries some people will still need to commute. Its really frustrating and ruining people’s lives.

GWR service Gunnislake to Plymouth takes 45 minutes for 17 miles. Regular cancellations are part of the scene and Plymouth station staff are far from helpful. When the 4.35 is cancelled to be told to wait for the 6.30 is hardly cheering. Safeguarding children is not on their horizon even though a significant number of children use this service to get to school.

Ian Johnson says:
25 January 2019

I used to travelon the train regularly to Manchester form Stalybridge or Greenfield as I wanted a ‘green’ commute and get more exercise, walking to and from the railway station, but the experience was so awful with regular delays and cancellations that I had to give up. The trains were constantly unacceptably over-crowded, dirty, out of date, noisy and over-expensive -particularly those of ‘Northern Fail’. I used to think that Trans-Pennine express was a good rail service (at least the trains were new and not dirty) but that service too was unacceptably disrupted due to strikes etc. The biggest issue I have is the complicated compensation process. Refunds should be issued on the spot -no questions asked. If I did not deliver on time for my customers I would have no income, why does the rail industry continue to be protected? I am afraid that the decision, years ago to transfer from an albeit, far from perfect nationalised railway system, to a system of unaccountable private monopolies is the fundamental cause of the problem. Why does it cost in excess of £275 to London return, when it costs a fraction of this on a plane? Enough is enough!

Ian, I agree the rail fares to London from the Manchester area are quite expensive.

In the past I’ve sometimes used them, when travelling up to London to meet up with Government Departments or to attend meetings of directors. Although the alternative of travel to Manchester Airport, then a flight to Heathrow and further onward travel into London might have been cheaper, I never found it to be a compelling consumer choice.

When a lot of business meetings are held within easy walking distance of main railway stations, rail does become the easy and obvious means for travelling to and from them. I’ve sometimes argued that I can use a long day out by train to avoid a night’s stay in a hotel, so that helps to mitigate the high costs of the rail fares.

it’s not just the disruption. I turn up to work sweaty, uncomfortable and at times feeling quite ill because of the circumstances I have had to travel under (I have seen and myself have almost passed out due to the lack of oxygen on more than a few occasions).

I pay for weekly or monthly passes but the trains aren’t even running for 2 days a week (for months) due to strikes.

it wasn’t like this when I began my commuting to manchester but now the trains are often shorter (due to upgrades that have now been upcoming for more than 2 years with no tangible delivery).

Rail just feels like it needs a rethink and the commuter should be at the centre of that thinking, not the rail franchise.

whilst I do not agree with the lefties deprivitisation views, what this government has allowed to happen with the franchise’s and network in the north is a scandal, to the detriment of the “northern powerhouse”.

Rodney Clark says:
26 January 2019

Travelling back overnight from USA to Manchester we were trying to get back to Doncaster train station, we were tired, and the first train we hoped to catch we cancelled. The next one 40mins later was packed. It took 4hr to get to Doncaster, it only took 6 to get to Chicago.