Who you gonna call?

December 2, 2010

If you’ve got a problem with a ghost (and I hope you haven’t, unless it’s a Casper and he’s friendly… but then he won’t be a problem, will he?) then you know what to do. You know who to call. Ghostbusters. The one and only. Ring them, they come, they sort you out. There may be other ghost-busting agencies available, but not to my knowledge. It’s all so easy. Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters. Sorted.

Now let’s say you’ve got a problem with the weather. A bit of snow. And let’s say the trains are not up to the job. Who you gonna call?

Tricky, isn’t it.

A few years back you’d have called the train equivalent of Ghostbusters; a little-remembered institution called British Rail. They were responsible for all train things. Snow? Want to know what to do? How to get somewhere? What’s running? What’s not? Who you gonna call? British Rail.

But they had to go. I’m not sure why. I guess they just weren’t making enough money for the men in suits.

So, everything got split up and now who are you gonna call? Network Rail. They own and operate Britain’s rail infrastructure. If you have a problem with infrastructure, call them.

The trains I tend to use are operated by Southeastern. They provide services for South london. Should I call them?

Yers, the snow’s bad. I’m sure it affects trains and infrastructure in ways I can’t begin to understand. It seems to affect information display boards too. And staff.

The information boards freeze up and just tell us there is disruption. The staff freeze up and lock themselves away.

It’s not the staff’s fault. And I don’t balme them for locking themselves away. It seems they are as much in the dark as me.

Two days ago, at Hither Green Station, I waited for a train. It wasn’t snowing, but it had been. A bit. Trains were delayed. I looked at the info things just wanting to know which platform I should wait on. They weren’t working. I went to he counter. All three ticket booths had the ‘closed’ blinds pulled down. The door on the platform which is always open so you can speak to someone… closed. In time I tracked down a member of staff. I was nice. He was nice. They are all  nice at Hither Green. He was apologetic. After a bit of polite banter I asked him why no info was displayed. It was because they had none… that’s ok, Im thinking, but why don’t they put up info that says they have no info. Something along these lines:

Now what is the message there? The message is that there are no “knowns.” There are thing we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that’s basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.

It sounds like a riddle. It isn’t a riddle. It is a very serious, important matter.

Donald Rumsfeld at NATO 6th June 2002

Tell us something, don’t just hide away!

I did ask the member of staff why they didn’t just make regular announcements. Even if it’s just letting us know there’s nothing to announce. He said they weren’t allowed to/didn’t have the facilities (one of the two, I can’t remember which).

In time I got where I was going.

Then I had to come home.

At Waterloo East about fifty people gathered around an info desk. I asked the man if he knew what platform the next train might arrive at. At that point his colleague leaned over and said “we don’t have to take this abuse.” The man I was talking to tuned to his colleague and said “He isn’t being abusive, he’s being very polite”. Thank you sir. And then his colleague declared “I don’t have to take any more abuse!” She ripped the cables out from underneath her monitor and stormed off.

Moments later an angry passenger behind me called out “Why don’t you just shout loudly so we can all hear. If there are no trains just tell us.”

I turned and shouted “There are no trains.” He looked at me and said “a bit more information would be nice!”

It’s just crazy.

I shouldn’t complain. At least I didn’t get stuck on a train overnight.

A few days ago I went to see Unstoppable, the new Tony Scott/ Denzel Washington runaway train extravaganza. Southeastern should make their own non-action film, Stoppable.

Or Network Rail. Who do I pitch it to?




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