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The image of train travel throughout Great Britain is something that has had a fair butchering in recent times with the rise in train fares, the condition of some trains and the management of the track infrastructure being just a few things that have been reported upon in the media. Having moved house from Carshalton out to leafy Sussex, I get to see the other side of travelling by train, by that I mean that I don't use the suburban services and now use what could be considered "Inter City" as the line I use is the London to Brighton line.
The operator of the line is Southern and although the train operator has changed numerous times over the last 20 years I have to admit that I have been fairly impressed with what I have experienced over the last month of travelling up into Central London. Southern covers a vast area of the country, Surrey Sussex and areas of Kent as well as stations far afield as Horsham, Southampton and Milton Keynes, they serve a number of termini in London including London Bridge, and Victoria, recently taking over operation of the Gatwick Express which I can safely say with hand on heart they have improved upon dramatically in attempts to relieve passenger congestion. Throughout the route they intersect with other operators as well that makes travelling from the South to North a lot easier.
The trains for starters are air-conditioned, and if you travel on a summer's day it can certainly make a difference with the journey, in fact on some occasions when I have arrived at the legendary Clapham Junction I have had my spec's steam up when I've alighted from the train. The trains are all modern and comfortably furnished in neutral pastel company colours of Green and Grey that easily identify Southern as the company
that are running the service.
Seating configuration is part airline with two seats, corridor then two seats, and a plentiful mixture of a configuration that allows tables with a group of four seats in a two facing two patterns, this means that you have people with laptops working away on their journey. Not a major problem at all as the bag rack above is where the rucksacks and brief cases are stored, so the seating levels are usually clear.
Compared to the sardine like capacity of the suburban services the fact that I get a seat every morning from my station on a train that is literally half empty is bliss and I am able to sit there till at least Redhill on my own reading the Metro.
Timekeeping can be a problem, so far out of the fifteen or so journeys that I have undertaken the majority have been to time, with a few occasions where a person has been ill on a train or a broken down train has caused an issue with delays. These could be delay with better by the station staff and although the train driver and conductor keeps you updated on a regular basis, it is rare to see the staff on the Platform at Clapham when something is brewing. However that's only my experience at the time as usually it's about seven people deep anyway and we are all listening to the tannoy announcements or the LED boards for updates anyway. Maybe this is an area that could be improved; more staff at this time would tend to try and calm the people down rather than hack them off. It doesn't help that the automated train announcer will start his deliberation by saying "I' sorry to announce that the..." every two minutes either. I've always wondered if this can be switch off.
Pricing is something that hurts every one and it's well known that Britain has the dearest fares. I can do a weekly travel card that is £63.20 per week, however I would much prefer to have a yearly, but at £2572 that is quite something to spend in one go and I was shocked to find that this doesn't even cover me for the Tube or Buses. If I want that then I would have to pay a further £900 a year!!! I suppose it's a case of what service we recieveth, we have to taketh away in money. The operator has done a great job with the trains given the fact that they are clean, modern and on the whole very reliable overall and something that as a commuter we will evidently pay through the nose with the high fares, but the level of comfort I have experienced surpasses the suburban travel by far.
I also find the atmosphere different as well, the commuters are in a routine and I find that people who work together sit together and so we have people anxiously sitting at the table seating awaiting colleagues to get on at the exact same doors of the exact same carriage every day to sit together. Over the last month this has become more evident given the fact that I am getting the same train by entering the same door on the same carriage and seeing the same people. Come Christmas I don't doubt that there will be a few carriage parties on the way to the coast.
Oh, the website is actually very informative as well and easy to navigate, again ticket purchases can be made here and money can be saved.
The stations along the route are clean and I have stopped at most of them for various reasons as well. The larger stations such as Redhill and East Croydon have been spruced up and modernised to include Disabled access, however the more rural stations prove to be a challenge as some are simply two platforms with a connecting bridge and therefore cannot be used by wheelchair customers, I sincerely hope this is rectified with step free access in the future.
The big problem that I have is the dreaded weekend work that usually begins when the last train has passed on a Friday night or a Saturday morning. This causes a lot of grief for travellers especially around the Gatwick area where I am as this means I will have to get the Replacement Bus Service and change, which when going to Football means this puts me easily into the two hour club to get anywhere. I can understand why it is being done, but feel that I would rather have it done in one go and experience shorter suffering times than have a railway that doesn't run at the weekend that appears to last for months. I am not in a place to go into the politics of train travel and the use of companies winning the franchise, what I do know is that I am happy with the service I get to get to work and back, I pay the fares, which I have to add are verified on the train by a ticket check being performed throughout the space of the working week, to receive the service. Looking at the Southern website it seems that the major work on the main line is near enough completed as it is the branch lines that seem to be getting the attention. Okay for me, but I don't think this is going to end in a hurry and may be looked upon as doing a job that compares with painting the Fourth Bridge.
As a bonus my office moved in October to Victoria, so I won't have to actually change trains at all at Clapham Junction and will be able to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Southern have improved what there predecessors, Connex and so on, attempted to do. Maybe it's a case that they just finished the job that was in motion, however they deliver a service that meets my requirements at the moment and I hope this continues