Go South West, life is very, very peaceful there

About six weeks ago I was delayed at Winnersh Triangle railway station. I call it a station, it’s basically a long wooden walkway with no amenities whatsoever, other than a couple of benches. I was there for 78 minutes, on the hottest day of the year, waiting for a train to Reading.

When I got to work the next day, just for something to do really, I went to the South West Trains website to see if I could get a refund. It would be pennies, I realised that – the full return fare had only been £11.30 – but it was the principle of it. I found an online form and filled out all the relevant information. I realised a couple of days later that I hadn’t received an email acknowledgment of the request, and presumed I’d completed the form incorrectly. I shrugged and forgot about it.

22 days after my initial complaint I got a reply from a Customer Service woman named Victoria, who for all I know might be a real person, asking me to provide a photo of my ticket. Needless to say, I had chucked it out. I sent the following, rather churlish reply:

That ticket, as you no doubt would expect after 22 days, has long gone. I gave up on ever hearing anything back ages ago. Excellent tactics by South West Trains – delay even acknowledging the email for weeks and weeks, by which time people will have assumed they were never going to get a reply and conceded defeat. End result – no refund! Job done! Well played South West Trains.

A mere 18 days after that email, I have today received another reply from Victoria. To be fair to her, she’s been very reasonable. I mean, I wouldn’t even have replied to the above.

On this occasion, I will be happy to accept some other proof of travel, for example a receipt or a copy of a bank statement, so long as the transaction is clear. Any compensation due will then be paid as a gesture of goodwill, in National Rail Vouchers.

So I went and had a look at my online bank statement. For reasons that will become apparent below, I realised it’s unlikely I’m going to get my refund:

Hi Victoria

The best I can do is a screen grab from my online banking, showing the two payments I made that week. I definitely worked on the Tuesday at Winnersh, which is how I got to spend 78 minutes on the Winnersh Triangle platform on the hottest day of the year, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that, since the two card payments I made came out on the Wednesday and Thursday. Maybe they were processed a day late; maybe I paid by cash on the Tuesday. Who knows? It was 40 days ago, and I can barely remember what I was doing 40 minutes ago.

The payments are also showing up as GWR, even though I was sure it was a South West service I was on. Does that make sense? Goodness knows. As a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the shambles of national rail services ever since Margaret Thatcher and her band of corrupt cronies decided to rip us all off by privatising the network, thereby making sure that shareholders get to profit from taxpayer subsidies, this takes some beating. Massively delayed trains, slow customer service (nothing personal, I’m sure you’re going as fast as you can and management should employ some more Customer Service people, but three weeks per email isn’t great), and utter confusion about which company is doing what.

Of all the malevolent, socially unjust policies with which the appalling Thatcher blighted the nation, the farce of rail privatisation might just take the biscuit. I realise that you, Victoria, were probably not even born when she was ripping the social fabric of the country to pieces, so I’m not blaming you, but take my word for it. There was a golden age when the state just provided services which everyone needed, without any dodgy, tax-haven using billionaire oligarchs getting rich off the back of it. Ah the 1970s, you weren’t all bad.

Given that you presumably will not now have to spend any time processing my refund, I’d ask that you spend the saved minutes taking a look at The Four Big Myths of UK Rail Privatisation – Action For Rail. If it hasn’t been blocked by your employer, that is.

OK, so I won’t get my refund, but at least it made me feel better.

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