If a tree falls…. who cares who heard it. We’ve got bigger problems.


Richmond – Waterloo – Waterloo East – London Bridge – Est 35mins

London Bridge – Waterloo East – Waterloo – Mortlake – Est 45 mins, Actual 1hr

The outward journey was a breeze. Met by ramps at both stops, and plenty of staff keen to assist by pointing me to the right platforms and at staff to get me on the train. Once again proof that it can work.

Of course this was just the universe lulling me into a false sense of confidence.

I began the return journey two and a half hours after arriving. The first leg went smoothly until I arrived at Waterloo. In the time between the two journeys a tempest seems to have descended and created travel chaos, specifically by bringing down trees. The upshot of this was mild disorganisation. I’ve seen much worse and there were plenty of staff on the barriers offering assistance so I wasn’t unduly concerned. Staff seemed to have the situation under control. They’d even sucked in help from the back office, highlighted by the staff looking slightly uncomfortable, carrying radios and timetables but not wearing South West Train uniforms.

It was one of these staff members who approached me and, having ascertained my intended destination, pointed me towards the 16.15 Teddington train (15 mins away) which would probably go from platform 19 but that I should wait at the gate until it was called, just in case. With that she vanished like a Fairy Godmother to help some other poor, delayed traveller. (If you liked the Fairy please read on, for she has another cameo appearance shortly)

Sure enough, after 5 mins, a disembodied, and frankly rather stressed sounding, voice announced to the assembled throng that the 16.15 service would indeed depart from platform 19. This prompted me and a minor torrent of other passengers to flow towards the awaiting train like a gently babbling brook of resigned acceptance.

Frustrating past experience has taught me that platform 19 has no permanent staff presence, and therefore if assistance is required, which it always is, then it’s best to locate it first, otherwise by the time the dispatcher arrives there’s no time for the ramp. So my hunt began.

The only uniform I could find nearby was a revenue inspector at the end of platform 18. I joined the queue of one and waited. I’ve always found inspectors friendly, but not helpful, so I was encouraged when he went out of his way to show the queue in front of me where to go. By ‘out of his way’ what I really mean is walk around this electric wheelchair and occupant (i.e. me) blocking his way. He returned quickly and positioned himself with his back to me. I suppressed the desire to run over his feet (150kg on a big toe is rarely ignored in my experience), and instead settled for a polite ‘excuse me’ to attract his attention.

We quickly established that there were no other staff around, or I wouldn’t be talking to him, and that, despite his obvious reluctance, I wasn’t going anywhere until he made an effort to either assist or find someone who would. He opted for door number two and went off hunting, returning a minute or so later empty handed. Fortunately my frustration with his efforts was tempered by the reappearance of The Fairy Godmother who directed me towards my train with the promise of assistance when I arrived.

This brief vignette had of course taken time but I still had 5 minutes so I wasn’t overly concerned.

I arrived on the platform shortly after the dispatcher who was 20 metres ahead of me, heading towards the ramp. I followed. He reached the ramp… and kept on going. I move at a fast walking pace, but it wasn’t enough. Unless he turned round or looked over his shoulder I knew how this would end and it wasn’t in my favour. I kept going, and so did he, each step taking him further from the ramp. As I passed the middle of the train the guard stepped from his cab, just as the dispatcher turned and saw me for the first time. There’s an awkward pause whilst the two guys focused on getting a train out in the next 2 minutes look at the guy in the wheelchair who represents an obstacle to that happening.

I protested but honestly my heart wasn’t in it. Without words their faces told me this wasn’t a fight I was going to win. I got an apology, of sorts, from the guard as he closed the doors and the train departed. I also received a promise from the dispatcher that he’d get me assistance onto the next train, or come to help personally.

I got the next train, 15 minutes later, without further incident.

The moral here is that when things go wrong, as they will running a transport system, it’s important that your mitigation doesn’t just cover the 95% of normal, able bodied travellers, and that a Fairy Godmother isn’t necessarily your Fairy Godmother.


On a humorous note I found the following on the train..

Jpeg Jpeg

the sign above the window seat says “Please do not store dirty bombs in the overhead rack.”

Well, where are you supposed to put them?


About Alan

I'm an Economist, Geek, Campaigner & wheelchair user who's been using all forms of public transport for 20+ years.
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