Two more rail strikes are planned for next Wednesday and Thursday, November 8 and 9, over the introduction of driver-only operation on the Southern network – but will anyone notice?
The last time I travelled to London for a meeting (as opposed to pleasure) I happily trotted across to Ashford’s platform 1 from the high-speed side on my return journey.
But the platform was bare. No little green train. Instead a well rounded man in a very small high-vis jacket directed me to a replacement bus round by the Eurostar entrance.
The double-decker bus was already packed with obvious commuters (suits and briefcases or bags) who may have heard announcements on the high-speed or the platform which I clearly (or rather deafly) had not.
After quite a long wait (or so it seemed) the bus set off, only to be halted. The electronic barriers would not let it out of the car park. No ticket I presume. However after some phone calls the bus changed lanes and we left.
We then processed zig-zag fashion across the marsh to Ham Street and then Appledore. But again we halted – for a train! The crossing gates were shut at Appledore to allow a little green train to leave the platform and proceed to Ashford. Hmmm.
So what’s going on?
The bus then headed apparently at high speed along a road hemmed in by wide and very deep marsh drainage ditches. And at intervals cars, going even faster along the mainly straight road, passed us in frightening fashion in the deep dark.
At Rye the bus parked – and there (what!) was another little green train (this time on the Hastings side) speeding off towards the Ferry Road crossing. Strange. By now this was about an hour after leaving Ashford.
At that point some of the commuters, who had been fairly placid up to that point, began to mutter, but I made my excuses and left.
Quite a few of those left seemed to be going to Hastings and maybe even further. But the Ferry Road gates were up and I headed home across the tracks.
The following day (Tuesday) the BBC local news told me that the strike was still on and services between Hastings and Ashford would be severely disrupted.
So I set off to the shops. But – surprise, surprise – at the doctors’ surgery in Ferry Road cars were back-stopped in the usual long queue. The crossing gates were closed and soon after a little green train chugged through towards Ashford. Confused?
I could understand the train being cancelled the day before, as that had apparently become a regular occurrence recently on non-strike days.
Cancellations seemed to happen without warning. Replacement buses did or did not turn up – and in Hastings the best bet was often to jump on the first Stagecoach bus back to Rye.
Breakdowns were often the reasons given. Our little green trains are a tad elderly.
However, if the shuttle was working on that non-strike day, why were we not told at Ashford? We could have waited and grabbed a refreshment. Equally, a bus could have been laid on from Rye for those going further.
Some trains were clearly operating. We all saw them from the bus. And a look at home at the timetable suggested the shuttle had been running and on time.
As a regular user of the railway, but not a daily commuter, Southern frankly appears to me to be a shambles of a company.
My only surprise is that the commuters on the big, brand new, blue double-decker bus mystery tour did not complain more – but perhaps they did?
However, the services on strike days November 8 and 9 may be no worse, or no better, than they are on non-strike days!
Photo: Rye News Library