LETTER: Proud to work for British Rail

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I read with interest the letter submitted by Glenn Lyons regarding the re-nationalising of the Railways.

Whilst I acknowledge that Mr Lyons concludes his letter with generous praise for the the staff currently at Haywards Heath station I feel that I must take issue with some of his comments especially those appertaining to staff attitudes when he started travelling from Haywards Heath Station in 1971. I was a railwayman for over 41 years before taking retirement back in 2009 and began my railway career as a Junior Porter at Haywards Heath station in the late 60s before moving down the line to Wivelsfield. I find his wording “Both my commuting stations were regularly manned by too many staff personnel huddled in conversations often seemingly oblivious to passenger presence and if approached for information reacted with an unwillingness to be helpful” to be particulary unsavoury and an insult to myself and my former colleagues! We prided ourselves in customer care at a very difficult time when there were extensive timetable changes and we went out of out way to try and help our passengers - certainly not behaving in the alleged manner as referred to by Mr Lyons! Indeed we earnt plaundits from the likes of the late Jimmy Edwards who lived at Fletching and Sir Harold McMillan the former Prime Minister who lived at Birch Grove - indeed on many occasions we escorted him onto the London bound platform, carried his bags and ensured he caught his train.

I could also recount the time when the boat train to Newhaven carrying pilgrims on the Lourdes bound train broke down at Haywards Heath and was in Platform 1 for nearly four hours with a loco failure in sweltering conditions and myself and other platform staff spent those hours reasuring many worried people as well as ensuring that they had everything they needed to keep them comfortable.

I could also comment on the occasion that we had to chase an escaped herd of cows that found their way onto Balcombe Viaduct but that is another example of how “uncaring” we were no doubt?

All in all a complete opposite I would say as to what is being portrayed in Mr Lyons’ letter! On the subject of “famous British Rail sandwiches” can I just comment that how hopelessly out of touch or ill informed he must have been with the real railway. We had a lady called Mrs Moss who had a kitchen of sorts on Platforms 1/2 and every morning (excluding Sundays) she spent hours cooking fresh cakes, savoury rolls and sandwiches and I was often charged with carrying tray fulls of this fare over to the buffet on Platforms 3/4 with a very stern warning as to what would happen to me if I dropped them. A far cry yet again from what is being depicted in the letter. Finally Mr Lyons touches on the old “unsafe slam door stock” - albeit it that he does actually admit in trying to jump on a moving train I wonder just how many people would try the same “trick” in trying to board a moving bus or get in a moving car? These trains most certainly were not dirty, particuarly noisy and certainly no more “overcrowded” that some of the trains today. The “safety” issue was indeed the slam doors but again it was more often that not the passengers who made them unsafe by trying to jump on or off moving trains or ignoring the signs not to lean out of the windows for obvious reasons.

Another contentious issue with the slam door stock was that pasengers quite often seemed to think that they were self closing and many minutes of delay ensued with platform staff having to run down long platforms to close these doors! On numerous occasions standing on Platform 2 at Haywards Heath station when a 12 car train from London in the rush our peak came into the station myself and my colleagues were quite often living in fear of being knocked over by open doors and commuters standing on the running boards waiting to alight and quite often left the train whilst it was still in motion. Again would you try the same antic from a moving bus or car and then insist that these vehicles are unsafe? I think not!

I agree that today’s services as provided by Southern are not up to standard but that is a different subject from my letter that is really a reaction to some rather ill informed passenger observations.

As to whether the Railways should be re-nationalised I can only comment that I joined British Rail well before privatisation and then we had Network SouthEast under Chris Green that was gradually getting better until suddenly privatisation came in and I then migrated into Railtrack and finally Network Rail.

The best years of my railway career were most certainly pre Nationalisation, I might be biased but the bottom line is that in the late 60s and early 70s my colleagues and I at Haywards Heath Station were proud to be working for good old British Rail and were dedicated, polite and helpful too!

John Rea

Lynchmere Avenue, Lancing

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