Thursday, 22 March 2012

22 March 2012. Letter 98

Dear Mark and Sue

Oh Mark. Ohhh, Sue.

This is the last time I will ever write to you. You have no idea how often I’ve wanted to write that! Here’s the thing: every time I’ve written to you, I’ve hoped it would be the last time. All I’ve wanted is for the trains to be on time, Mark! All I’ve ever asked is that you give me the service I’ve paid for!

These nine months and 97 letters past – these 97 times I’ve been on trains of yours that have not run according to schedule since the end of June last year… implicit in each of them is the fervent wish that I wouldn’t have to write to you again.

I’ve written around 100,000 words of complaint to you, Mark. That’s quite a lot of complaining in nine months, isn’t it?

Well, lads: I’m not going to write to you again. Not, I hasten to add, because you have finally got your acts together and started to run First Great Western in the way that you have so often promised you would… but because I’m not going to be catching your trains any more. My daily commuting days are over. I’m back to freelancing again, and on the odd day a week or so that I will be in London, I’m going to catch the bus.

Sorry about the £480 a month I’ll no longer be giving you. I’m sure you’ll claw it back somehow. Another above-inflation price rise? That oughtta do the trick.

Will you miss me? Of course not! I’ve done my utmost to humiliate you through every medium I could think of: on the internet, in newspapers, on radio and on TV. These letters featured on Panorama! Panorama, dudes!

I should think you consider that £480 a month is a price well worth paying to be rid of me. And think of all the time you’ll have on your hands now! We’ve wasted over 24 hours of each other’s lives since June! Think of how much time you’ll have to concentrate on making the trains run on time now!

After all: we shouldn’t forget why I started writing to you in the first place, should we?

I started writing to you in a blizzard of righteous fury and frustration, Mark. I didn’t start writing to you to entertain you, or make you smile, or even teach you a little about 80s pop lyrics – I wanted to waste your time, same as you waste mine. I wanted to embarrass you. I wanted you to realise that it wasn’t just me being uppity. I wanted you to see that, no matter how Sue and the rest of them spin it, all that nonsense about 90 per cent customer satisfaction ratings and the rest of it is just that: nonsense.

Where it matters, Mark, in the carriages every morning and evening, stuffed in and standing, herded and humiliated and subject to shocking levels of contempt and dismissed as mere human fodder by your company… right in there, where it matters most, the majority of your customers are not happy. Most of them are like me: seething, frustrated, sickened with the feeling that they’re being royally ripped off.

Most of them, of course, are considerably less childish and petty than me, and so most of them don’t write and tell you about it every day. Maybe they should.

Anyway. Rant over.

As this is my last letter I also wanted to say thankyou, Mark. Not for your management of the trains, of course, but for the simple good manners and gentlemanly conduct you’ve shown in writing back to me every week. Often in the face of, it has to be said, some rather extreme and protracted mickey-taking.

I have enjoyed your replies, Mark. And I appreciate every one of them. Good manners are important. Being a gentleman is important.

Sue… well, I’d like to think you at least helped Mark with his replies to me. I’d like to think, as Director of Communications, you did at least a little communicating with your customers, if only by proxy. And, also Sue: you did give me a birthday card. It’s hard to be cross with someone who gives you a birthday card, isn’t it? So thankyou too Sue.

And that’s your lot. No pop music references in this letter, no history lessons, no meteorology, astronomy or cobbled together bits of Shakespeare. And definitely no typewriting monkeys. This letter is just me saying goodbye (not “au revoir”) – and, hopefully, reminding you that there was a point to these things other than a bit of silliness.

Take it easy, Mark and Sue. Good luck with making First Great Western the kind of train franchise old Isambard Kingdom wouldn’t be ashamed to travel on. Seriously: good luck with that.

Goodbye, and good luck. And remember: not fare well but fare forward!


PS – Don’t cry too much. We never know what’s waiting round the bend, do we? The letters may be over now… but anything could happen next. Who knows: maybe even a book…


  1. So it's not just me. Glad to hear you have escaped the grind. I've just started out on this blogging lark and took a similar route to you into London.

  2. Dear Dom,

    May I begin on congratulating you on your fine work, it has taken dedication, patience and creativity to keep complaining about the same things in a variety of new and eye catching ways! A shame it is the same things over and over they cannot get right.

    I myself am a commuter between Maidenhead and London daily and can relate to every single word you have ever written. As I am still suffering and will be for the forseeable, I request your permission to continue your efforts in regularly updating Mark on the increasingly poor service, which seems to be getting worse not better.

    You sir, are my hero.

    Any information on contacts would be great, all I get from the general email is exerts from press releases, which nine times out of ten are irrelevant to my initial complaint.

    Between the two of us we might not make much of a difference overall, but it will bring to his attention at least that there is not just one of us out there, but rather thousands that have had enough.

    Bring on the Cross Rail!! [If this is run by FGW you will find me tied to the tracks]

    Best regards,

    1. Hi Laura - yes, go for it! Be my guest! Be sure to let me know how you get on (my twitter address is on the left somewhere).

  3. Mark. I think I love you (but don't tell my boyfriend).

    FGW make me feel rage on my daily commute between Reading and Paddington.

    I hope you have managed to avoid all FGW journeys.

    1. Ooh thankyou! But it's Dom, not Mark. Mark's the bad guy, right?

  4. Hi Dom,

    Do you know latest ripoff from FGW.

    Try this below ticket from Fgw mobile app.

    Vauxhall to Bristol parkway with on change at Reading for 17.39 train at Vauxhall. Costing £30.50.

    Noo . Can't find it .. try other companies app and you will.

    FGW offers tickets routing to its service which costs over £90 but takes around same time to travel.

    What a ripoff for over packed evening trains.


  5. You did better than I did, Dom!

    When, as one of FGW's drivers I wrote to Mark Hopwood about orchestrated bullying which arose from my various letters about piss poor driver training (a matter which history - i.e. a string of safety incidents - proved me entirely correct to do - my letters were ignored. During my time with FGW, I spent a lot of time putting in suggestions to improve performance and operational safety - and not one received even an acknowledgement. As you can imagine, I also took a lot of care in reporting on-train defects - something which is a requirement of the Rule Book. You'd think it would be seen as helpful if someone pointed out "Oi mate, do you know your exhaust is falling off?" but at FGW, this kind of behaviour is deemed as a threat: to the point my ASLEF reps told me to "Wind your neck in, stop writing reports".

    Having now joined another train operating company, I can say with certainty that FGW is oppressive and bullying towards any of its staff who dare think they might know better. And if you don't believe me about the incidents, try Googling a very well covered up incident "SPAD B9 Uphill Junction". Here, the brakes on a FGW HST froze up and the train shot past a red signal even though every safety system had intervened to try to stop the train. The incident was ranked as 26 (bloody high) due to the very near chance of a head on collision with another commuter train, just as happened at Ladbroke Grove. Yet FGW escaped a full Rail Accident Investigation Board inquiry, even though full inquiries were deemed necessary for all of the freight trains which had suffered similarly at around the same time.

    One of the many illustrations of a deranged organisation, obsessed with image is when I was pressured into driving a train during horrendous weather with a broken screenwiper motor. Id brought the train back to Temple Meads by travelling at reduced speed and getting out at each stop to clean the screen by hand, but I was asked to continue the onward journey as there were no spare trains available "Um, I can't see where I'm going!" .... at the same time my Guard was being bollocked by management for wearing a wooly hat in the cold weather as it "didn't look professional".

    Utterly incompetent c*nts.

  6. You have had me in bits of laughter for 30 MINUTES. You Dom, are a genius!

  7. You're brilliant, Dom. Congratulations on your successful "project"! I found your blog by accident and I spent a lot of time reading some of your was not wasted time, it was entertainment time. I am from Romania, where the train delay is somehow a rule, but fortunately, I travel only once every 2 months. I've never thought to write the management e-mails, because I don't believe they will ever answer me...or at least not without an impressive delay. However, your letters will make time fly during my's really good you wrote so many! Thanks! :))

  8. i keep on recalling the very brief phrases from your letter, Love to read

  9. This service is plagued with delays for years. They not seems to be bothered to improve the service . I should be compensated everyday for running late to work because of these idiots