The three greatest movie trilogies of all time, according to Empire magazine, are (at 3) Back to the Future, (at 2) the original Star Wars films and (top of the pops) The Lord of the Rings. Once I have sold the film rights to this site then my current thread of posts will be competing for the top spot.
If you’re not up-to-date here’s a handy recap montage: last month’s #SOLS post was about the Battle of Waterloo (the station not the Duke of Wellington battle) and, a few days later my ‘Will Commuters Even Notice‘ became a (not-quite) best seller on Medium. Both discussed the state of the trains, major engineering works and the small matter of the change of franchise on the railway lines into London Waterloo station. Assuming all is on-track (every pun intended) then Network Rail will give us our trains back on Tuesday morning.
If you see this series as ‘Lord of the Rings’ then this is the thrilling conclusion to the story. If you think of this collection more like ‘Back to the Future’ then this is the weakest of the three with a mixed plot including some strange wild west space theme. If you’re thinking that this series more of a Star Wars classic then you are sadly deluded and I don’t know that you should read any further without seeking help.
In the run-up for the engineering works, the poor people running the South West Trains publicity and Twitter machines went into overdrive reminding everybody to prepare for delays. There were plenty of warnings on the trains (see the picture on my last post). My personal favourite tweet warned of the End of Days (which, if you think about it, makes this more Lord of the Rings than Back to the Future) and you really only get the effect if you click through to the actual tweet:
General mood on the South West Trains network this evening #waterlooupgradepic.twitter.com/zJGlaIxGI8
— Emily Jane (@emjric) 4 August 2017
At my local station we even got a sneak preview of the queuing system we’d be expected to stand in for 20 minutes each morning.
And then came Monday morning. The alarm went off 45 minutes earlier and, with some trepidation, I made my way to the station. There was some of those crowd control people I previously mentioned, lined-up to help the masses form an orderly queue. But there was a problem with all the planning: there were no crowds. For most of the time, I’ve had a seat on a partially empty train at a time I was warned I’d have to queue. Pulling into Clapham Junction station at around 7am would usually find a platform crowded with commuters trying to find a space: this week more people got off the train at Clapham than got on. It was emptier leaving the station than it was on approach. People have vanished.
Response to the #WaterlooUpgrade on Twitter seems to have come in three main topics: those who are frustrated that the train timings have changed; those that campaigned for some money back because of the disruption (even after 14 months of warnings) and those who expressed shock that South West Trains were, suddenly, quite pleasant to ride at morning peak times.
Sadly, it was’t all free ice creams and a seat on a train. If you are completely changing the way you use the infrastructure around Waterloo station, I imagine you’ll find things that break when they previously didn’t. So, of course, there have been failures and problems and the temporary timetable extended every journey into Waterloo. Quite early on there was a derailment which, in turn, meant extra days were added to the most severe service reductions on the last weekend. As Modern Railways said, “every sinew will have to be stretched to hold the service together”. (1)
And in the middle of it all, with not a great deal of fanfare but a few little touches, Stagecoach bowed out and handled the franchise torch to South Western Railways. A couple of stickers and a logo, or two, added in places. The announcements were updated and my train was now a “South Western Railways service to London Waterloo” but it looked, and behaved, the same as always. When railways are franchised to private operators I believe it’s important to know who is actually running (and profiting from) the service. For the south west region, I think it’s going to take some time for the new company’s brand to land and, even longer, for people to know that this it’s a totally different company. Still, in the midst of all the disruption, a launch party would have been inappropriate.
If you were expecting some kind of thrilling denouement to the train trilogy, sadly, Network Rail, South West Trains and South Western Railway look like they’ve managed the whole thing rather well considering that to do the work hundreds of trains had to be cut and thousands of people had to change their plans.
Sadly, the #SOLS timetable means I am posting this when there are still a 36 hours until the resumption of regular services and anything could happen. Over-runing engineering works would hardly be something new. And unfortunately, there will be limited improvements to the old timetabled services until December so it might look like this work was in vein. Plus, there’s the added pressure that, as part of the final stage of the London Bridge Thameslink works, South Eastern trains need to use some platforms at Waterloo from Tuesday. But, given what could have happened, there has been considerably less chaos than predicted and I am grateful for that.
Well done everyone.
(1) Modern Railways, August 2017, p7