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One train delay too many

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Somewhere, on an old and long-obsolete iPhone, I have a short video of Helen in a park. The phone was misplaced some time ago and so I haven’t seen the video in ages, but I can still picture it vividly in my mind’s eye.

Rail, trains, Southern, Southern Rail, train strikes, rail strikes
Once a joke, the long-running rail issues in South East England are having a major impact on many families. Pic credit: Darren Bockman

A train hurtles past on a near-by rail line and Helen, who was about two at the time, stopped in her tracks, pointed at it excitedly and shouted: “Choo choo twaiyn.” Needless to say, she’s older now and the sight of a train doesn’t cause quite the same level of excitement.

Even so, there is a nearby footpath with a bridge that goes over a railway line. We sometimes find ourselves walking over that bridge and if a train is coming down the tracks, we stop and wave and the drivers never fail to blow the horn as they go past.

Unfortunately, however, there are fewer trains on those tracks these days. The reason for this: We live in an area served by the Southern Rail franchise.

After more than a year of industrial mayhem, the state of that rail network is having a real impact on our family’s life. I’ve seen a number of newspaper reports about people losing jobs and relationships breaking down as a result and I can totally see how it is happening.

Just last night I was putting my daughters to bed. This is something Mrs Adams would always try to help with, but train trouble meant that, yet again, I was doing it solo.

My four-year-old, after being tucked into bed pipped up “I miss mummy.” Although a confident, outgoing kid she’s a sensitive soul and that was the second time in a week I’d heard her make that statement courtesy of delayed and / or cancelled trains.

Mrs Adams was always going to be slightly late last night as she had a brief, after-work event to attend. Even so, it came as no surprise whatsoever I received a text message from her giving an update on her journey.

It explained she could only get a train so far and would be completing her journey by taxi. When she arrived home, the kids were fast asleep.

It’s increasingly becoming a game of Mummy’s Commute Roulette. Will Mrs Adams make it home in time to sit down with the kids as they have dinner? If not, will she get home for bedtime?

You can never tell when she’ll get back. Needless to say, as a stay at home dad I’m more than capable and prepared to deal with these scenarios.

It doesn’t cause me that much of a problem dealing with homework, dinner, bath and bed time. It’s a different story for Mrs Adams.

After a dreadful commute, she will often stumble through the door stressed and need time to decompress. If she’s late, this eats into time she could be spending with the kids.

If she’s had to get a taxi for part of the journey, that’s money that could have been spent on school shoes / school uniform / books / any number of things. This, despite having paid a small fortune for a season ticket.

I also make regular trips from our home into Central London although unlike Mrs Adams, I usually travel off-peak. Although I travel at quieter times, for the past 18 months, I have barely made a single journey that hasn’t been delayed or affected by a cancelled train.

This often causes me stress as I have usually arranged childcare for the kids. On numerous occasions I’ve to extend the length of time the kids stay with a childminder because of late-running trains costing me both money and time spent with my offspring.

It’s hard to know who the bad guys are in all of this. Is it Southern and its parent company Govia Thameslink Railway? Is it the train driver’s union Aslef or the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union that represents the train guards? Is it the Government for allowing Govia to expand and run such a massive franchise in the first place?

Pointing the finger of blame is possibly not helpful. The one thing everybody wants is resolution.

Yes, yes, some people will cry “first world problems”. Of course there are bigger issues going on elsewhere in the world.

Yes, each individual instance of a delayed train is relatively minor. Thing is, it’s a constant stream of minor problems and it is tiring and it is having a genuine impact on people and families. If I were to plot in a diary how often Mrs Adams is late and how much time the kids miss seeing their mother, well, you’d have to be heartless not to agree it was an issue.

It’s also heartbreaking to have your four-year-old tell you they miss their mother. It would be understandable if she were on a week-long work trip to Singapore or Dusseldorf, but no, she’s merely gone to the office.

I don’t know who should make the first move. I simply know the impact of this industrial action is very real for this family.

I also know it’s quite the topic of discussion. When we were in Scotland to celebrate the New Year, I was astounded at how well informed everyone was with the Southern Rail situation 500 miles away. When I speak to my mother, she often asks after Mrs Adams’ commute.

Enough is enough. Surely all parties need to resolve their issues because as things stand, nobody’s coming out of it looking good.

Are you affected by the issues affected the Southern Rail network? Is it having an impact on your family or home life? Do leave a comment below with your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “One train delay too many”

  1. There is something about bad public transport management that can rile me up like few things can. The importance and impact of Public Transport to the health of the community and the economy should not be underestimated. It can be the death of whole suburbs, towns and businesses and, as you say relationships can suffer greatly too.
    Whatever is causing this issue needs to be resolved.

    1. Oh Stella, you are so right. Sadly it’s only when things go wrong that we truly appreciate the importance of good public transport. I have to say this quietly, as at heart I’m more inot free market economics, but I have sometimes wondered whether it would be a better idea for major transport networks to be 100% in public ownership. I sometimes think they’re too important to be run for profit.

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