Thursday, 21 July 2011

21 July 2011. Letter 9

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 21/7/11. Amount of my day wasted: 8 minutes.

Mark! Sue! What's shakin'? Two letters in one day! We've become penpals! We're totally e-buddies! I'm developing a more regular relationship with you than I have with my own mother! I feel we're getting... intimate.

Guess what, Mark? That train I was on this morning, as I tap-tappity-tapped my last letter into my phone and the burnished rooftops of Reading town reflected the rosy-fingered dawn in all its glory outside the (extraordinarily slow-moving) train windows... it did end up delayed in the end. Doh! We limped into London's Gateway to the West some eight minutes behind schedule. I won't pretend I'm not disappointed.

What happened? I assume something awful and tragic and utterly out of your control. I assume (from your last letter) something happened about which I should be feeling bad - rather than (for example) anything that might be your responsibility. Was it my fault again, Mark, for expecting the service I paid for? Am I just too naive? Do I just not get it?

Particularly nasty fatalities (whilst being so much worse than the pleasant variety of fatality, or the tolerable kind, or even the quite nasty type of fatality) are naturally beyond your control. You can't be everywhere at once Mark! You are, after all, and in the words of Freddie Mercury, just a man, with a man's courage. I know you try your hardest to stop those particularly nasty fatalities, Mark (where are you when all this is going down, Sue?) and I know that you can't save everyone. I hear you, brother. I feel that pain.

On the other hand, what you could do... is concentrate on running a business that can cope with the occasional emergency. (I say "occasional" - but these occasions do seem to crop up quite regularly, don't they? Familiarity, I don't mind telling you, may be beginning to breed the beginnings of contempt on that front.) What you could do, Mark, is put your energies, abilities and (whisper it) budget into making First Great Western trains the kind of company that doesn't fall apart every time something awkward happens.

What do other train companies do, I wonder, when faced with particularly nasty fatalities? Or is it only your trains that attract the tragic? In Japan, for example? Or Switzerland? Or, I dunno, Lancashire? I'm genuinely interested. Do they have contingency plans? Do they have special communication set-ups? (Sue! Wake up! We're talking about communications again!) Do they plan ahead? Or does everyone just kind of wing it and hope for the best?

What I'm sure they don't do is try to make their own customers feel bad about the situation. What I'm sure they don't do is attempt to transfer some kind of spurious guilt onto those people who hand over their money and expect to be taken home on time.

Or perhaps they do. Maybe, as I said, I'm just hopelessly naive.

Oh dear, I've just read this back and realised that now I'm sounding very cross. I'm not generally a cross person, Mark. You should see me normally, Sue, I'm lovely. I'm a pussy cat. Go on, tickle me. Tickle me there! See! Aren't we having fun again?

Au revoir!


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