The Anonymous Widower

An Open Letter To Jamie Burles Of Greater Anglia

I will open by saying that this letter is not a complaint about your company, as you, like all your passengers and staff are just suffering collateral damage from the overwhelming incompetence of the real culprit.

I have been supporting Ipswich Town, off and on, since my parents retired to Felixstowe around 1960, when the next door neighbour used to take me to Portman Road.

In 2007, after living together in Suffolk for nearly forty years, my wife died of a squamous cell carcinoma of the heart, followed in 2010, by our son, who died at just thirty-seven of pancreatic cancer. I am coeliac and because of all this grief, I neglected my health, which caused me to have a serious stroke. Luckily, the only lasting problem, I suffered was a partial loss of vision, which meant I was unable to drive.

So I sold up in Suffolk and moved back to London, where I had been born in 1947.

For a couple of years, things went well coming out to Ipswich for matches by train. Typically, on a match day I would have a gluten-free lunch in London and catch the reliable 12:30 Norwich express and just arrive in my seat a few minutes before kick-off.

I should note, that there is only one reliable place for a coeliac like myself, who needs gluten-free food to eat in Ipswich and that is Pizza Express. But you can only eat so much pizza! I can get gluten-free sandwiches in Marks and Spencer, but as with the pizza, it means walking to the centre of town and at seventy-two now, that is not such an easy proposition, as it once was.

Over the last six years, the journey has got worse. The much longer journey  time on replacement buses, means I can’t eat properly or do any of the other things , I need to do in life on an average Saturday.

Consider.

  • Football may be important to me, but it is not that important.
  • I should say, that sometimes, I go via Cambridge, when replacement buses are in operation for a change, as I can have a meal in the city with friends or buy sandwiches in the Marks & Spencer in the station.
  • In all these years of disruption, it always seems that if Ipswich are at home on the Saturday, there would be a busification of the service, whereas on other Saturdays a full service operated.

When I first started coming out from London to see matches, there were quite a few supporters on the trains from London, including one guy in a wheel-chair. Over the years many seem to have fallen by the wayside, because of the constant disruption.

I had hoped that this season, Network Rail’s deplorable project management of the Great Eastern Main line, which often results in surprise closures,  would have been consigned to history.

But if ever, there have been more closures this season and the latest batch of nine closures starting on Saturday, are the last straw as far as I am concerned.

Saturday’s closure was particularly inconvenient, as Kings Cross was closed and the West Anglia Main Line was running a reduced service, so in the end, I had a late breakfast at St. Pancras and took Southeastern Highspeed to Ebbsfleet where a friend and fellow Ipswich season ticket holder, who lives nearby, gave me a lift  to the match. The home-to-home round trip , was actually almost as long, as that on the previous Saturday’s trip to Tranmere.

Looking at the next few Saturday Ipswich home games, I see the following.

  • Peterborough – 1st February – Normal service (?)
  • Burton Albion – 15th February – Buses
  • Oxford United – 22nd February – Buses
  • Coventry – 7th March – Buses
  • Portsmouth- 21th March – Buses
  • Rochdale – 18th April – Buses

I probably speak with more authority, than most, as the company I started in Ipswich; Metier Management Systems, is recognised as one of the companies, that changed project management completely, in the last three decades of the twentieth century. At times, half the major projects in the world were being planned and managed by software I wrote in a Suffolk attic.

I rate, Network Rail’s performance over the last few years in the wider UK, as one of the worst project management disasters I have known, alongside Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport, the legendary hospital built the wrong way round, and the Boeing 737 MAX.

January 26, 2020 - Posted by | Sport, Transport | , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Reading your observations, it makes one wonder as to how the Victorians in the 1850’s built the Railway system. There were no roads, labourers were illiterate, no earth moving machines, and new technology metal work and civil engineering designs. The challenges were staggering, but overcome without a shrug. Brunel was self taught, as were the Civil engineers and main Contractors. The shear incompetence of today’s management is mind boggling. I used to be a Senior Project Quality Engineer, and always looked for simple easy to manage solutions. I remember a large Cambridge Aircraft Company which could not deliver a contract because no one knew what a particular Nato Specification was. The contract engineer had missed it in the quotation. The answer was a Lightning Conductor! A new EU Directive that was not subsequently enforced for all new structures. Boeing miss out main girders in their aircraft using unskilled labour, what else is not built into their planes?. Will HS2 deliver for less than £200 billion?

    Comment by jagracer | January 26, 2020 | Reply

  2. Brunel was taught in a similar way as I was; by his father, peers and those he worked with. I was taught how to behave on dangerous chemical plants and rolling mills in the same way. It was much more fun! Although ICI did give me a proper Health and Safety Course.
    As to the cost of HS2, the cost will always be to how they handle the resources.and whether they have enough skilled staff. HS2 has the advantage the Victorians had. Much of it will be built on virgin ground. Look at BR’s, RT’s and NR’s performance on electrification projects. Compare new railways like HS1 and old railways like the GOBlin. The latter often cost much more, as Victorian infrastructre is not straight and badly documented. Sometimes it’s absolute crap and Listed for spurious reasons.
    The Blackpool Branch Line was eventually completely rebuilt and electrification was putup afterwards. Or that’s what it looked like. It seems to have gone well compared to other projects because they were putting up the wires on a railway built on good ground.

    They’d probably still be building it, if Carillion hadn’t gone bust! Those clowns have a lot to answer for!

    Comment by AnonW | January 26, 2020 | Reply

  3. I applaud your letter and echo it’s sentiment, since I regularly want to travel the Great Eastern main lines to visit relatives as the weekend, and have too often been impacted by bustitution (on the return journey on Sundays).

    Bustitution has the side impact that Greater Anglia winds up selling customers more expensive tickets (via Cambridge/Ely) for London-Norwich (and onwards); the “default” routing on the National Rail accredited scheduling/booking engine is to suggest shortest duration (which bypasses the usual bustitution at the London end), but then Greater Anglia does not “price match” the tickets on the Cambridge route. On several occasions I have had to “force” the route to be via Colchester (and hence using the bustitution to Newbury Park) to get the cheaper fare I expected to get; time wise the bustitution is not too much longer for me door-to-door since I can skip past Liverpool Street.

    This is not the only pricing abuse from Greater Anglia–not offering Advanced fares on the slow trains for smaller stations and branch connections is another–needed a manual split ticket to go “beyond and back” and extra trains to get the “right” fare for the journey (not something the split ticket websites will offer). I plan to write letters to editors to local newspapers en-route (mostly Archant) at some point, having complained previously to GA and got a response to the effect of “we charge the prices we want charge for our trains”.

    Worst case in the last few months was when the Norwich-Ipswich part of the line was on bustitution, extending the journey time by over an hour (slow bus calling at intervening stations to join train at Manningtree/Ipswich, if I recall correctly, rather than an express direct bustitution for customers wanting to travel to Colchester and beyond to avoid excessive journey time). On that occasion I booked the Megabus from Stratford to Norwich instead with onwards connection from Norwich on the train (much less convenient and constrained journey times, although overall quicker although not cheaper based on Advanced weekend fare with railcard discount–F&F in this case, although I also have the GA Club 50). Journey was further disrupted by a flooding outage on the Bittern line, predictably not handled well by GA in terms of notification or support, fortunately I found out in just enough time to get the Sanders bus to Norwich to connect to the Megabus without a huge wait or new ticket on another bus.

    Comment by MilesT | January 28, 2020 | Reply


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