Thursday, June 28, 2007

Corporal Mortification? Try commuting on FGW

Abandon hope, all ye who were hoping for an improvement in the railway network, for Ruth Kelly is the new Transport Secretary.
Luckily, her religion expects her to undergo a certain amount of suffering, in order to bring her closer to God, under the Opus Dei organisation. So, I suggest a period of using First Great Western train services to try and get to work. If this kind of suffering brings us closer to God, then we're all pretty close to being saints by now.
On a serious note, she's not done very well so far in the ministerial posts she's been given, let's see if she can make the transport system any worse, that's a pretty formidable challenge for anyone.

What's wrong with this picture?

Today, I was going to write "Bum on seat, part 2: C34a", but to be honest, I got to the station, the seat was free, I sat on it, and, well, that's it really. There's nothing much else to say except that the seat reservation system continues to work, and it's delightful.
I would, however, like to pass on some of the comments that I've been receiving in my inbox at, as they are far more interesting.
Firstly, today's photo comes from Tangers, who wonders how exactly the disabled people at Swindon Station are supposed to exit after going through the special barrier. Answers on a postcard.
Also, I was delighted to hear from Ryan, who tells me there's a FGW guard currently to be seen wearing an I Hate First Great Western badge that he was given by a passenger at Bristol. Apparently he's doing it for a dare, brilliant!
Finally, news from our regular visitor Billyo, who's discovered that the fares system is such a mess, it's sometimes cheaper to buy a ticket to Paris, or Rosslare in Ireland than it is to get an open return between Bath and London. This is because open returns are uncapped by the government, and are therefore often priced at a level that can only be described as bonkers. I've heard from others that you can save a small fortune on your ticket by breaking it up into smaller journeys, or buying a cheap ticket to a location beyond the one you'll actually be getting off at. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has tips on how to save money. I'll also be trying to look into it, but I went on two European websites yesterday, and trying to find out the rail fares from the UK made my brain melt, so I gave up. Check his blog post here for the full debate on the issue, really quite unbelievable.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bum on seat, part 1: E27a

The system works! Not a phrase you hear often in relation to FGW, but it seems that despite suggestions to the contrary, season ticket holders can reserve seats.
As I have mentioned before, I am the proud owner of a reserved seat on nine services from London Paddington over the next three weeks, and last night was the first: seat E27a.
The tube was functioning surprisingly well, so I arrived in good time for the train and did not have the satisfaction of booting someone out of my seat, but I was still pleased to see the little cardboard ticket poking from the back when I boarded coach E. The train was full by the time we left, and there were people standing, but unfortunately I was too happy in my private area of reservedness to remember to hand out badges to those passengers less well off than myself. Hey ho.
If you'd like to try this for yourself, the e-mail address you need is, let me know if the system works for you too, or if I happened to catch the customer service team on a good day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

28 days later

There are a lot of things you can buy with £12.00. For example, a quick glance at Amazon informs me I could buy the film The Train (with Burt Lancaster, 1964) on DVD, a copy of the Bob Dylan CD Slow Train Coming, or even the book Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. I could buy any one of these and still have enough change from my £12.00 to buy sweets in the shape of trains (can you get sweets in the shape of trains?) if that is what I chose to do with my £12.00.
But, sadly, this option is not open to me, because I have still not received my compensation cheque from FGW for a journey I took on the 28th of April. It is now, if I have counted correctly, 59 days since I spent the money on a taxi after being abandoned beside the road late at night. It is also, more importantly, more than 28 days since I was informed that a cheque would be forthcoming. And I quote, from a letter dated the 24th of May:
"I have arranged for a cheque to the value of £12.00 to be sent to you from our Finance Department. This will be sent directly from them, under separate cover, at the earliest available opportunity, please allow up to 28 days for delivery". Well, the 28 day period has passed, and the cheque has not arrived. So, complaint letter number 3 is on its way to the customer service department, which, by the way is a freepost address (First Great Western Customer Services Team, FREEPOST SWB40576, Plymouth, PL4 6ZZ).
I should have warned them, I get very upset from the lack of sugar which results from eating no sweets in the shape of trains (there must be sweets in the shape of trains, surely? Imagine the pleasure in being able to bite them in half, a bit like jelly babies), and when I get upset, I write letters. Lots and lots of letters. I think you should too.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What's wrong with you people?

Ah look, a fantasy train, with eight carriages on it. Just like the train that was supposed to be the 18:30 service out of London Paddington yesterday. I bet everyone in that fantasy train has got a nice seat to sit on, the train is clean, and it leaves on time and doesn't stop inexplicably for twenty minutes outside Reading station. Unfortunately, this was not the train that made it into service last night. Instead, only five carriages were provided on this major rush hour service and you can easily imagine the kind of squeezing into the lobby that followed. Luckily, I had recently replenished my stock of badges and cards, so eased them out of my bag, trying not to elbow anyone in the face at the same time, and began to offer them around the packed lobby area. You would think I had asked each passenger if they wanted a slap in the face. A couple of nice ladies opposite me took the badges suspiciously, read them, then told me that they agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment, and put them on. Everybody else looked like I was trying to sell them a timeshare apartment on a Spanish golf complex. For goodness sake, I'm trying to campaign for a better service here, isn't that what you want? This kind of reaction is so frustrating, and leads me to believe that there are some people who'd rather moan and whinge than actually try and do something about their problems. So, don't whine, complain! Write a letter and tell the FGW customer service department what you think, otherwise I won't be the one listening when you're bellyaching yet again about how useless the service is. Okay, rant over, consider yourselves told.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The importance of sitting down

Great news to impart. I have successfully booked a seat on nine trains from Paddington over the next few weeks, starting next Tuesday.
I have the seat numbers in my possession, and will unceremoniously be chucking people out of any that are occupied, so I'm sorry if it's you, but it's a jungle out there in commuterland, and it's survival of the fittest.
So, this disproves something I saw written on the FGW website, which says that season ticket holders can't reserve seats. I think it's actually the goodwill of the FGW Customer Service staff I have to thank rather than any change of policy, but I'm not complaining, as long as there's a seat there for me to sit on. I'll report back next week on how it goes.
My only problem is that sometimes I don't get that train, but I'm going to try very hard, just to make sure I give the seat reservation system a good trial, all in the name of research of course.
In other news, still no sign of a cheque in the post, sadly, so I continue to await my refund. It'll be 28 days on Thursday since I received the second letter replying to my complaint, so a third letter will be despatched on that day to try and hurry it up a bit.
And I'm not even going to mention my 50 minute wait at Paddington Station on Friday night at 11:45pm, after a late shift, when the train failed to turn up because it was delayed in the depot. Whoops, I just did. I tried to mention my blog to some of the hundreds of people waiting with me, but sadly most of them were drunk, so I'm not sure my point got across very well. Still, if I only get one more visitor it'll be worth it. No, it won't, I need hundreds more. Spread the word!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The blog celebrates its 2000th visitor!

I'm delighted to announce that at seven minutes past two this afternoon, the I Hate First Great Western blog received its 2,000th visitor. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who's visited the site, ordered badges, and made helpful comments (I sound like I'm making an Oscars speech). And, to mark this momentous occasion, I'd also like to thank the 2000th visitor with a bottle of bubbly. So, if it was you, get in touch. This is all I know about you - you appear to work at Star House in Maidenhead, according to your IP address, and you spent 32 minutes on the site, finding it through a Google search at 2.07pm on Friday the 15th of June and exiting by clicking on the link to a BBC story called "Rail passengers want lower fares". Is this you? Can you prove it by visiting the blog again from the same IP address and then e-mailing me your details to If you can, I'll reward you with not only champagne, but your very own shiny I Hate First Great Western badge, you lucky lucky person.

Tick Tock

It's been nearly three weeks now since I received a letter telling me that I would be sent a refund from the First Great Western finance department, for a journey I took back in April during which my friend and I were abandoned at the side of the road after midnight, when a replacement bus failed to materialise.
It's not a large amount of money - the taxi home only cost £12.00, when we finally managed to flag one down - but it's the principle of the thing. And the fact that the company tried to brush off my claim for a refund with a standard letter spouting a passage from the infamous CoC (Conditions of Carriage).
It's just not good enough to treat people like this, forcing them to write two letters of complaint before anything is done. It's one of so many reasons that I hate FGW, this complete disregard for people's anger and frustration. It's not like I was expecting compensation, just a refund for a journey I was forced to take when their service failed.
One of the blog's visitors, a rail employee, says he's heard through the grapevine that all complaints are now being sent to the ombudsman, to make sure the system is being improved. So once again, I urge you to complain in writing every time you feel that anger at being treated badly, at being squashed into a full carriage, at being delayed and late for work, or, like me, finding yourself standing by the side of the road in the dark.
I'll wait another week for this money, but then I shall be putting another complaint in the post. And this time I will be asking for compensation. And interest at the standard rate. Tick tock, tick tock...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The insider

I was perusing the new comments this morning, when I was delighted to happen across one from someone claiming to be a First Great Western employee. Amazingly, this member of the Customer Service staff said he (or she) had no idea that the company was so hated. Clearly, we have not been complaining loudly enough, or making our grievances known to the right people. So, what should we do about this?
Well, for a start, continue to order your "I Hate First Great Western" badges (just e-mail me, the address is on the right hand side of the blog) and wear them prominently when your train is delayed, full-to-bursting, or cancelled. Make sure you complain in writing at least twice, every time there is a serious problem. And, e-mail your complaints about the company's service directly to Alison Forster, the FGW Managing Director:
But also, if you are that FGW employee, please come back again and take part in our discussions, so we can find out more about why FGW makes the lives of its customers such a misery - are they simply unaware of how horrendous the commuter's life is, don't they care, or it just that they're not very good at running a train service? I'd be fascinated to know more about things from your point of view.
And, if you are someone high up in First Great Western, reading this blog, get in touch! All we're asking for is a reasonable service, some perks for paying a fortune for a season ticket, and the feeling that when we scream, someone's listening. Are you out there? Hello?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why the duck?

I've received an e-mail from Sharon at the "Forward" programme to confirm that it's now closed and there's no other promotion in its place. So, my dream of first class upgrades and free cups of tea is no more.
But, in better news, she's confirmed that season ticket holders can indeed reserve seats for no cost, despite the website suggesting that a £5 fee could be charged for each reservation. So, I've given her a list of dates, and wait to see whether the system works. The first reservation I've asked for is tomorrow, so fingers crossed I could have a guaranteed seat for my bum at the end of the day. I'll let you know.
To answer the question I posed in the title, I've used a picture of a duck because I'm getting a bit stuck for pictures that don't involve a FGW train, in order to illustrate the seat reservation issue. So, instead I've decided to throw caution to the wind entirely, and take full advantage of the lovely images provided by Free Foto. I hope you like it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Summer is here...

...and with it comes the sweaty unpleasantness of the underground as I battle towards Paddington and hope for a seat on the train home.
But maybe soon I won't need to worry, as a small white ticket will hopefully save a seat for me, and allow me to make my way on to my regular-ish train without having to worry that I'm going to stand all the way to Reading.
A free reservation system is offered as part of FGW's Forward Customer Programme, which is designed for season ticket holders and regular travellers. Apparently there are all sorts of other benefits, but I've only just found this out, as I'm not a member. As you will see from the Forward Customer Programme page on the website, it offers all sorts of benefits, including free weekend car parking, free hot drinks from the buffet, free first class weekend upgrades, and access to the first class lounge. These are things I want! Unfortunately, when you read on, you discover that the programme is currently closed to new applications, as they're reviewing it. I've never heard of it before, have you? Maybe I've not been paying attention, but as far as I know I've never been offered membership, or ever seen the service being advertised or promoted. I've asked for more details on the scheme, but I'm expecting that, like most things at FGW, the reply will be slow in arriving, so if you know anything about it, please let me know, as I feel like I've been missing out all this time.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Does the reservations system work?

I spend a lot of time sitting in reserved seats. Not ones that I've reserved, but ones with tickets in the back that someone else has reserved, but that the reservee doesn't actually turn up to park his or her bottom in. Our annoying friend, Mr NVN, whose comments I've been blocking due to their insulting nature, did actually make an interesting point. He suggested that we should all stop moaning about not being able to get a seat on the train, and reserve one, which costs nothing.
A lot of people do reserve seats. In fact, there's one carriage every day which is liberally peppered with these reserved labels, and there are always people hopefully hanging around waiting for the train to leave, so they can nab them.
Several times a week, when there's no seat available, I take my chances and sit in one of these reserved seats, and nine times out of ten no-one turns up to turf me out. So, are these people just reserving seats on several trains, to make sure they get a seat on one of them, or are they getting on the train and finding out there is a seat available, and sitting in that instead? And, if hardly anyone's turning up to use their reserved seats, what's the point of them?
This week, I think I will try and reserve a seat on the train I normally manage to catch in the evening from Paddington, the 18:45 to Swansea, and will let you know if it's an easy thing to do and whether the system works. I'd be interested to know whether the system has worked for you.
On another subject, it seems my celebration at finally receiving a refund from First Great Western was short-lived, as I am still to receive a cheque from their finance department. How long do you think I should leave it before I start charging them interest?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Five food facts

Hello all. A slight diversion from the subject of trains today. This is because this morning's train was delightfully on time, so I have no complaint to make, and because a fellow blogger has 'tagged' me. Charlotte from the GreatBigVegChallenge has asked me to reveal five food facts, and as food is one of my favourite subjects, I thought why not? So here goes:

1 - I am a vegetarian, and have been for 20 years. And no, I don't miss bacon, though I do miss ham and pork crackling. My favourite vegetarian food is probably falafel in a salad wrap with garlic mayonnaise. It's better than a kebab after a big night out.

2 - I'm not much of a cook, but I like making sushi. Not the raw fish kind, obviously, but there are lots of vegetarian things you can use, and it's much cheaper to buy the seaweed sheets and wrap them yourself, with a bit of wasabi strong enough to make your whole head feel like it's going to sneeze.

3 - When times are hard, and there's nothing in the fridge, I have been known to eat pasta with tomato ketchup. This is a habit from university, and it's much nicer than it sounds, especially if you add peas and sweetcorn. My favourite pasta shape is conchiglie (shells).

4 - I once worked at a sandwich and ice-cream bar in New Zealand. This was not a good time for my waistline, as New Zealand has some wonderful full-fat ice cream with flavours like Hokey Pokey, Pinky Winky and Boysenberry Swirl, which were all perks of the job.

5 - Another dirty food secret: when the diet gets boring, or the hangover demands it, there's nothing like a cheese and chip sandwich on white bread with salad cream. Carbohydrates ahoy!

I suppose if we are trying to link all this back to First Great Western, we should talk about railway food. Famously awful in the British Rail days, it's now infamously expensive. I never eat on the trains, as I don't have that kind of money, but I'd like to know what you think. There, it wasn't a completely irrelevent post after all. Smashing.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

No name? Shame!

Why did the chicken cross the road? Well, apparently, it was to log onto my blog and post annoying comments, some of them slightly offensive. Now, I'm all for a bit of spirited discussion, but frankly you've become a bit annoying, and the worst part is, you don't even give yourself a name, so I'll call you Mr Not Very Nice. So, Mr NVN, I'm objecting to your comments on my site on the following grounds:
1) You can't spell. This is offensive in itself. I do try to run a tidy site and you're making it look all messy, so go and get yourself a dictionary and some lessons in basic punctuation before you come back and comment again
2) Your comments aren't actually very funny. Silly boasting wasn't even amusing at primary school.
3) You're upsetting the nice people who support my cause, and that is unforgiveable.
So, for these three breaches of taste and decency, you're barred mate. Go and stand in the corner wearing the pointy hat with the big 'D' on it, and think about what you've done. Then step slowly away from my blog. Thanks awfully.