For the uninitiated, this is what happens at Birmingham New Street station with depressing regularity. Let me run you through it [pun intended as we shall see].
New Street is a subterranean railway station with a dozen physical platforms split into sectors a, b and even c. Bereft of natural light and of any lines of sight – as the tracks curl out of view – it’s a disorientating place. The effect is completed by the current – since it’s a day for made up words – retailification of the concourse.
Counterpoint: Burneside, Cumbria where I found myself several hours ago. Now there’s a station. One track, a short platform and a bus (sic) shelter. No people, no ticket machine. It’s all hills, verdant fields, brooding skies, dry stone walls, stony cottages and sheeps. When the train is coming you can tell: it honks and you can literally see it a mile off.
By contrast New Street has lots of trains and very many platforms. It’s impossible to discern your compass bearing and the tracks are not dedicated. IE: you can’t guarantee a platform for a train in a certain direction. Whilst I’m sure it’s a nightmarish logistical headache for the burghers of the signal box, at least they are being paid to deal with it.
When the (over)paying passenger arrives, they huddle and squint at the display boards before heading for the indicated platform. Once there, a nervous fervour descends. People ask each other: “are you for Bristol?”
“No. On the contrary! I think Bristol should be abolished. Badly located airport. Too many speed cameras.”
(Obv’ didn’t say that. Tempted, but no.)
Then the dreaded “10 minute delay” is indicated. I’ve seen this movie before. The director lets you think it’s 10 minutes, but only that’s just the beginning…. The 10 becomes 18. Then 23. Then the 2nd train on the display becomes the first on the list. Anxious glances are exchanged. Then the 3rd train becomes the second and “our” train vanishes from the display.
Suddenly, it’s a tense scene. Businesspeople start stretching their hamstrings, loosen ties, lean against walls to ready their calf muscles, touch their toes, adjust the straps on bags: A sprint is in the offing.
“Way arrr sorr-ay two ann-ownce that thoi twent-ay twelve to Briz-toll Pork-Woy is baying roi-platformed to 11A.”
GO! [Cue Benny Hill music]
RunRun RunRunRunRun RunRun RunRun RunRun RunRun RunRunRunRun. UpUpUpUp. RunRunRunRun RunRunRunRun RunRun. DownDownDownDown Pantpantpant.
On 11A there is a distinct lack of trainage.
Is someone having a laugh? I’m not.
Now we have a choice of trains that aren’t there. Eh? The delay means another service – service, ha! – is due.
A Network Rail chap points toward 11B and we’re off again! Now a train is overtaking us as it pulls into the station. I imagine it speeding up again and heading off…. We clamber aboard.
What is the point of all this? To stress out the weary traveller? To rub the nose of the paying customer in the notoriously patchy nature of our railways?
No dear reader.
It’s for the New Street signal box Christmas Party CCTV Steeplechase betting syndicate. They stage and then film these foot-races to bet on who gets the train and who doesn’t. They got the idea from Paddington where they have a similar – notorious – stampede.
Well, on the bright side we’ve a new word for the lexicon: replatformed.
Once you’ve missed your train at least you have time to appreciate the retailifacation due to your bollocksified travel plans.