What stops a train?

My train journey to work this morning took 20 minutes. On the way back, I was on the train for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The extra hour, spent waiting between two stations was due to something the British have a love/hate relationship with, something uncontrollable, but not insurmountable, something which surely shouldn’t bring a nation to a grinding halt, yet it does, over and over again… rain. But can blaming everything on the rain possibly be acceptable? I doubt it.

The train was approaching Edinburgh Haymarket on its way to its final destination of Edinburgh Waverley when it stopped for a few minutes due to “congestion around Haymarket”. When it stopped at Haymarket station, I had a brief thought of getting off the train, but dismissed the thought, as I knew I could get a convenient bus which would take me to my doorstep if I just waited a few more minutes until we got to Waverley. This turned out to have been the biggest mistake of not following a gut feeling in quite a while, as my patience began to be sorely tested within a minute of leaving Haymarket. At first, I thought we would just be stopped briefly, waiting for the signal to proceed on to Waverley. But it was not to be.

Fairly quickly, the train conductor announced that we were held due to flooding on the tracks between Haymarket and Waverley, however he was unable to provide an estimated time when the train would be on the move again. Whether he knew how long the train would be held and simply preferred not to inform his passengers, perhaps successfully preventing a riot, I will probably never know. His message of apology at the inconvenience caused came at frequent intervals throughout the hour long wait, pointlessly repeating that we are stopped due to flooding on the tracks, bla, bla, bla, as though some passengers might have missed the message the first, second and fifth time around. This, as well the fact I would miss the end of the Murray v Ferrer match coverage, was probably the most frustrating thing about the whole wait. Unsurprisingly, other passengers seemed to keep their cool, though perhaps they were, like me, considering finding the emergency door release and simply walking back along the track to Haymarket.

In the end, having seen only a couple of trains pass at a walking pace in the other direction, my train advanced at a 5mph speed through Princess Street Gardens, where it finally reached a terminal packed with sodden and undoubtedly disgruntled passengers with over an hour’s delay. What mistakes were made? I’ve come up with a few…

  1. The flooding situation wasn’t quite so sudden that it only became apparent after the train left Haymarket. Therefore, passengers should have been advised of the potential delay when the train arrived at Haymarket, giving them an opportunity to disembark and alter their journey to Waverley or their final destination.
  2. Even after the train had ‘got stuck’ a little way out of Haymarket, again anticipating the time it would remain ‘stuck’, it should have been reversed back to Haymarket.
  3. All trains bound for Waverley should have terminated at Haymarket and a ‘shuttle’ train should have run across the affected section of track. This is of course only a solution for regional services which only go to or from Edinburgh, rather than longer-distance services having to pass through the whole city. But it would have still alleviated the congestion on the flooded track.
  4. This is perhaps obvious, but in a city which is used to heavy rainfall, an arterial railway line should probably be designed to cope with rain a little better than it did!

The only redeeming feature of this whole episode was that the snacks trolley was circulated through the carriages and a complimentary tea or coffee was offered. As to the other facts, I would be keen to find out how this surely-not-infrequent event could have been managed so poorly.

PS: This was the first time I did this commute and I can’t say it has left me looking forward to repeating it next week.

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