How to cope when you’re stuck on a First Great Western train for 10 hours

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First Great Western image by Bristol Lad

Last Sunday, I was one of the passengers stranded on the Penzance to London train. Luckily my boyfriend had remembered to bring Pass the Pigs, we amused ourselves by drawing temporarily invisible moustaches on pictures with magic pens (a brilliant birthday present from Anya of Total Monkery) and there was a ‘Stress Channel’ on the train radio, which we attempted to listen to without giggling. We felt extremely sorry for the poor man who was given the job of walking through every carriage to tell all 500 angry, frustrated passengers what was, or wasn’t, happening – it was his day off and he was just a passenger on the train.

Summary of things that went wrong:

  • No seat reservations due to computer failure.
  • Train stopped for 6 hours due to “Lack of air”.
  • All food and drink ran out after 2 hours.
  • Mechanics only arrived after 4 hours.
  • Toilets weren’t working properly.
  • Tannoy kept ‘ticking’ loudly at random intervals and announcements were generally unhelpful.
  • Over 100 people standing on train, not allowed to use spare seats in First Class without paying extra for upgrade (despite some of them having reserved seats in advance, but found them occupied due to the computer failure).

Things First Great Western did right:

  • Handed out compensation forms as soon as we arrived at the station.

Still, we got in to London Paddington Station feeling quite ratty and wondered why the Network Rail guys were allowed to stop the BBC News team from filming inside, when it’s quite clear that complaining at a camera makes British people feel so much better. Refunds also tend to make people feel much better, but I’m hoping that they won’t be as delayed as the trains.

To First Great Western, we suggest a name change to “Worst Late Stay-Southern”. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but after that experience it’s clear that having “First” and “Great” in the name is just false advertising and lies.

Ending on a happy note…

The thing that made me feel happiest once we finally got off the train, was being able to de-stress by playing the public pianos at St. Pancras International. Honestly, I’m not sure how anyone could cope with me on low food for 6 hours (there’s a running joke that I turn in to ‘The Incredible Sulk’ if I get too hungry) and even once we got to Paddington Station I didn’t bother to eat after finding out that it cost almost £5 for a basic Cornish pasty, but I think the piano playing got me through. There’s no picture of me playing piano, but there is one of H, who deserves some sort of award for not running away when I’m in low-blood-sugar sulk mode.

Howard Kahn playing ragtime piano at St Pancras International Station.
Howard Kahn playing ragtime piano at St Pancras International Station.
Find out more about the public pianos at streetpianos.com

If you happen to find one of the pianos (they’re in a selection of cities worldwide), go and have a play and enjoy! 🙂

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EDIT: In fairness, once I contacted First Great Western’s customer service team via twitter after not hearing anything back for over a month, they were very polite and admitted that mistakes had been made regarding my compensation and sent out a full refund and two open First Class return tickets.

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2 thoughts on “How to cope when you’re stuck on a First Great Western train for 10 hours

  1. Oh my goodness! I wondered if I’d know anyone who’d been on that train. The 1st class stuff is shocking! I was on a (Virgin? I think?) train and they opened up 1st class simply due to overcrowding. Wasn’t even their fault, people were all catching an earlier train than their ticket was for. So sorry you had such a bad time of it 😦

    1. It wasn’t nice being stuck for so long, but I’m glad I wasn’t alone. It’s easier to keep yourself entertained (and relatively sane) when you’re travelling with someone. I feel most sorry for the people who only wanted to go from Taunton to Reading. :S

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