THOSE of us who seldom use a train are nonetheless accustomed to the frequent complaints of regular commuters.

Their griping acquired greater resonance for me recently.

On February 7, I had a funeral to attend in Shropshire (Aunt Peggy, 99, and a jolly nice person).

My wife Pearline and I arrived in good time at Southampton Central for our 5.15 am departure to Birmingham New Street.

At about 5.20, a train was approaching the station. As it did so, an announcement was made, very clearly over the tannoy, firmly instructing us NOT to board the train now approaching Platform 1, as it was NOT in service.

This message was repeated.

The Cross Country-liveried train duly came to a halt. To our surprise, several of those on the platform got on board.

Pearline ran to find someone in the Station-Supervisor’s office to ask about this paradox. He confirmed that it was indeed our train.

When she told him about the contradictory tannoy announcement, he just rolled his eyes. In the nick of time, we got on board, and asked fellow passengers about this strange phenomenon.

One said that the same instruction not to get on this train was made every morning, and that the first time he’d experienced it, he complied, and was consequently late for work. Does anybody working in that station actually listen to their own PA system?

A more astonishing inconvenience awaited us that day. At Birmingham we got on the West Midlands service to Shrewsbury, after a 15-minute delay – not a problem in itself, we reckoned. However, a bit further along the line, an announcement was shamelessly made that as this train was now running late, it would not run all the way to Shrewsbury but instead terminate at Wellington.

Apparently this dumping of passengers and returning early to Brum would get it back on schedule – that was what mattered.

In Wellington, we found a taxi rank by the bus station. As all the cars were ‘pre-booking only’, obtaining the services of one required dogged negotiation. We made it to the crematorium just in time.

Why did we choose to travel by train (at a cost exceeding £300)? To avoid the stress of driving. What fools we were.


Luccombe Road, Southampton