How to Ambush a Train Company.


Richmond – Hammersmith – Kings Cross – Westminster – Waterloo – Richmond

Train travel in the UK for people needing assistance is a second class service. For many years now the train companies have insisted on at least 24 hours notice to provide help. If you’re using the train to commute to work, or perhaps go out with friends, this restriction can be utterly impractical. To be fair, many people(*) don’t book assistance and are accommodated by the train companies, but this is often accompanied by a ‘have you booked?’ accusation and the various train company websites are all clear about the expectation for booking.

I’m a serial offender. My experience tells me just turning up can work, but I want less seasoned travellers to know and for the train companies to publicly acknowledge it. I’ve been campaigning on this for a while now, along with many others, but when I saw Virgin East Coast were holding a Meet the Manger event at Kings Cross I recognised an opportunity.

I was going to say ‘fortunately’ I caught a new s-type train at Richmond which made changing trains at Hammersmith possible, but to attribute any element of ‘luck’ to being able to access a public transport station just highlights what a two tier service it is. But I did manage to get off the train so I could then use the help point to call a wrangler to get me on the Piccadilly line to Kings Cross which has a raised platform so it was delightfully simple to barge the people from the doorway like bowling pins and escape upstairs to the concourse when I arrived.

True to their word Virgin EC made a few people available and I made a beeline for a likely looking candidate, who turned out to be one of the senior managers. I think he was delighted to talk about something other than delays, overcrowding, engineering work or the cost of tickets. We had a long talk about the inconvenience and unfairness of the 24 hour booking policy for passenger assistance. He seemed very supportive and sympathetic. Watch this space I guess.

Next I headed back underground to get to Westminster. Going via Green Park both the Piccadilly and Victoria lines are entirely step free so I had that rarest of rare things, a choice of route, though it was largely academic for the distance I was travelling.

There was a minor inconvenience at Westminster. The main lift to the ticket hall is being replaced. Fortunately the original lift is still active, but it is extremely slow and involves a very circuitous route via the District line platforms to reach it. It’s better than not being able to access the station, but it does make you appreciate fast, modern lifts.

After an extended meeting just over the river (translation – a meal and a drink in a pub) I headed off to Waterloo for the train home. It amazes me that as busy as the station is during the day, the footfall drops off a cliff after about 9pm. By the time I arrived tumble-weeds were blowing across the concourse. The information/assistance desk was well and truly locked up, which left me resorting to the tried and tested technique of grabbing the nearest warm body in a uniform and persuading them to help. It was a trick that worked admirably and I made it to the train with lots of time to spare. They even got the message to Richmond so that I was met with a ramp.

The journeys today were relatively easy. The key question will be does my conversation with Virgin East Coast have any real effect.

* – I’ve recently learned that as many as 60% of users of passenger assistance don’t book.

UPDATE – 30/9/15

Virgin East Coast have updated their web pages. They now acknowledge that it’s okay not to book (though they’d still prefer if you did.)

You can see the new page here.

I did that!

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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