At precisely 02:00 GMT on Sunday, a maligned train operator stopped running the West Midlands rail franchise covering a swathe of the nation. Since 2007, London Midland had offered more than 1,000 services a day. Or according to its timetable it did. The reality was somewhat different. What follows are the moments that left customers bemused, peeved or just plain chilly on a platform, wishing their phone had more charge. Cattle class From London, through southern counties and central England, to the North West, services London Midland had offered are going Dutch. Or at least being operated by new franchisee West Midlands Trains Ltd, a joint venture between Dutch firm Abellio and Japanese partners.Among the pledges, when it won the contract in August, was space for an extra 85,000 passengers on rush-hour services in Birmingham and London. Here’s why…
At one point during London Midland’s tenure, there were more people standing up than sitting down on the 16:46 from London Euston to Crewe – then the most overcrowded rail service in England and Wales, according to Department for Transport figures.The service was said to be 111% over capacity at its busiest, meaning there were 206 people able to read newspapers, watch Game of Thrones and not make eye contact with the strangers opposite, while 229 had tired feet, sighed a bit and, it turns out, felt like cattle. Among passengers’ testimony by 2016 was that they were commuting with faces pressed against the windows – not in the sweet shop way, the good way, but the squashed way. One observed that he travelled “cattle class”. Watch him talk about “going to market” here:
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We don’t like SundaysWinding back the clock to a weekend in September 2009, there was a to-do when passengers were warned to expect delays. But not just any old delays; the kind that were more like non-starters. Behind it was the cancellation of all of London Midland’s Sunday services across England. Working on Sundays was voluntary for most London Midland staff and the firm said a large number had not signed up. The bittersweet news – the travel equivalent of losing a fiver and finding a pound – was that replacement bus services were available.
Into the next decade and drivers were thin on the ground, or tracks. On one day in December 2012, a shortage of drivers meant 39 services were cancelled or disrupted – with more than 800 services subjected to the same fate, for the same reason, across that year. There were similar difficulties in 2013, but London Midland’s contract was extended despite the record delays that had landed it with a £7m compensation bill.Wrong kind of leavesSnow, shmo – the wrong kind of falling flake is so 90s. Here in the 21st Century, it is leaves that will not do as they are told.In October, a train overshot a station in Bedworth because of “decomposing, damp leaves”, London Midland said. It amounted to a “slippery residue” that was “similar to motorists driving on ice”. But can anything more be done when a resistible force meets a moveable object? There is always this gadget here…
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Fallen key, dropped clangerIn June, a morning train travelling between Tring and London was delayed by a few minutes when the driver dropped the key on to the track.He apologised over the on-board speaker system as the service pulled into Euston.He explained what happened and said the delay was caused by his going to the office to collect a spare.Christmas sprouts… and The TurnipBut was it really all doom and gloom? Well, there was the time peace broke out at Christmas, like when that football was kicked between trenches.By December 2016, people who met during their daily commute from Shropshire to Birmingham had become “train buddies”, marking their friendship with a touch of tinsel and trimmings. Yes, that’s right, a Christmas party on the way to work.
Anything else touchy-feely? Let us return to football and recall when former England boss Graham Taylor – once given a turnip head for daring to do his job – was awarded a nicer legacy following his death. Think less carriage clock and more, well, carriage. In June, a London Midland Class 350 model was named after him on a service calling at Watford Junction, Aston, Wolverhampton and Wembley Central stations, reflecting the clubs and nation he had overseen.The firm said it was in “recognition of a man who made such a lasting mark on the sport across the country”. Getting goodbye wrongIn December, as the buffers were in sight for London Midland, commuters at Birmingham New Street were given a farewell cake. But the box carried a best before date of April 2017.
Those who feared an upset stomach, though, were apparently mistaken about the mistake.”The printing on the box is wrong,” a spokesperson said. “If you inspect the inside wrapper, you will see it says ‘best before April 2018’.” Does this count as London Midland running early?And that was not all the box said. Here is how London Midland signed off: “A different rail company takes over on 10 December. It’s been a pleasure.”And here was how one customer took it: