What the hell is wrong with the people running SouthWest Trains?! I chose to travel on one of their trains from Waterloo to Isleworth recently for a training day on Microsoft Excel. This already threatened to be a day of immense tedium and considerable frustration, but I had braced myself for the long haul by bringing as my companion a dense and unreadable academic tome in which I could immerse myself at lunchtime in order to forget the injustices of my rehearsed incompetencies as a middle manager.

I sat in the Quiet Carriage. Admittedly I did this quite by accident; however, I was rather pleased when I had taken my seat to note the signs on every other window informing me that I was in the designated Quiet Carriage. In order for the carriage to live up to its not-too-lofty aims, each passenger (customer) – the signs pictorially informed us – must conduct her- or himself appropriately, and not use their mobile phones or games consoles (or, one presumes, musical instruments, iPads, or innumerable other potential noise-making gadgets). I was quite content to do my part – I had the aforementioned book at my disposal, my phone was on silent (as it always is – the vibration in my pocket is plenty to grab my attention, thank you), and I had brought my laptop, on which, I considered, I might first turn off the volume and then edit some documents pertaining to an upcoming conference. The train’s staff that morning, though, clearly had other ideas.

SouthWest Trains’ agents proceeded to exercise an extraordinary lack of judgement in or care for their conduct towards those of their customers travelling in the Quiet Carriage. Before the train even departed from Waterloo there was a two-minute continuous assault of epically loud announcements about my impending journey and all manner of issues more or less vaguely connected to aspects of it. The automated, robotic list of stations at which we would be stopping (which, every time it was played, paused unaccountably and annoyingly in the middle for about twenty seconds) would have been irritating enough; it also would have more than sufficed to have stopped following the announcement regarding where I could find the information about my personal safety (oddly, only repeated between every other station and then later petering out altogether, as though customers joining after Putney might as well all be damned). The train Guard’s relentless and, frankly, unnecessarily precise reminders of his precise whereabouts on the train (again, only pre-Putney) could have been the end of it; but no, these people had to invade the otherwise-diligently-observed tranquillity of the Quiet Carriage with the ‘advice’ that passengers all needed to book tickets before boarding the train or else face a fine. I still cannot think of any piece of information less useful to a group of individuals who have, in order even to stand the remotest chance of hearing this ridiculous pronouncement, already boarded the bloody train. If, as possibly the only alternative interpretation of this redundant advice might imply, we needed tickets simply in order not to be forcibly removed from the train or subjected to the levying of a hefty fine, then the fact that this information was routinely delivered almost simultaneously with the closing of all of the doors, only emphasised its purposelessness and impinged all the more on the desperately-sought peace of those of us travelling in the ironically-labelled Quiet Carriage.

Did I get any work done? A bit – after we’d passed Putney and SouthWest Trains had adopted its ‘come-what-may, screw-you-if-joined-the-train-late’ attitude to its remaining clients, I managed to jot down a first draft of this rant…

One Response to “Quiet Carriage?!”

  1. Youngster said

    I hope you did it on a notebook and copied it down on your laptop later? This morning, rapt with concentration, as I worked on a tricky document which required more reading/thinking than typing, I was advised (with an air of righteousness) that the noise from my laptop was too annoying for the quiet carriage. It was a crowded rush-hour train so there were very few seats left anywhere even though we were still an hour from London. Goodness knows what it was like nearer London. He probably had knees, bags, armpits, etc. in his face. I wouldn’t know though as I had scuttled off to avoid further argument. 1-0 to the Quiet Carriage Militants

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