Dear sir/madam,

I am writing this letter to you from my grandmother’s bedside, where she is dying. I was not able to see her before she lost consciousness, due to the actions of one of your employees.

Having been summoned from Hull at 9am on the 8th August, 2012, to see my grandmother before she passed away, I had made it down to Clapham Junction by about 4pm. I therefore needed to catch the 4:12pm train to Winchester. I saw on the announcement boards that the last five cars were for Winchester. However, when the train pulled up, I was somewhat confused as to why the last five car doors were all shut (and the little lights on the open/close buttons were off) and everyone wishing to get on the train was hurrying up to the first half. Not wanting to get sent to Weymouth (because of the urgency of my situation), I therefore asked the nearest employee which bit of the train to get on. This man was about average height, relatively overweight, with short, perhaps sandy, hair. He appears to have been the driver of the last five cars, and was standing outside one of the carriages.

Upon asking this man, “Is this part the bit for Winchester?”, he glanced at me briefly, muttered, “yeh”, and then turned away. Seriously confused as to why no-one appeared to be getting on or off to go to any of the five places this half of the train was supposed to be going to, I said again, “this bit?”, and then gesticulated at the rear part of the train. The man made a quiet monosyllable that in hindsight was presumably some version of “yes”, and then got into the train. He then made a series of actions that, to my non-train driver eye, might have been to split the train apart at this station, why might explain why the doors to the back of the train were closed. But while I was standing there, obviously puzzled (I might as well have had a question mark dangling over my head), and equally obviously wishing to go to Winchester (I was wearing two rucksacks and looking travel-worn),  the man started the engine up, and proceeded to blank me and drive the train away.

Now, I wouldn’t have expected any member of staff to have held up an entire train service for every person standing on the platform with a query, but I had explicitly had an interaction with this man which established that I had every intention of getting on this train, an interaction that had evidently not satisfied the problem I had that meant that I wasn’t on it. I would like to think that a responsive staff member would have looked at me, for starters, and said something like, “are you getting on this train?” to which I could have replied, “why aren’t the doors open?”, this reason could have been explained and I could have gotten on the train. Perhaps they could have said “hurry up and get on then”, and made a gesture towards the carriages that I was supposed to get on, clearly indicating what I should do. Perhaps, instead of “yeh”, the first time round, I could have been told “yeah, these ones”, or perhaps even “yeah, these ones go to Winchester, the others will be spliting away at [wherever]. All useful signs that I was not getting on the wrong part of the train and I would in fact, be taken to Winchester. Instead, I got a grunt, and a missed train.

Why do I care about this? It’s not like there aren’t trains every twenty minutes to Winchester from Clapham Junction. However, when your relative has been given just hours to live, every minute counts, and as it happens, the time it took me to wait for the 16:27pm train, and the extra minutes that train took compared with the one that had left me on the platform, was the last period time my grandmother was communicative, and by the time I made it to the hospital, she was already unable to recognise me, or anyone else, and is now unconscious and in palliative care as I write these words. Words cannot express how I feel about being robbed of a last opportunity to say goodbye to my grandmother while she could still hear me, so I will not try, but simply ask you to imagine how you would feel if this had happened to you, because one of your drivers didn’t feel like stringing together a sentence long enough to be of any use to a confused passenger.

I don’t know whether this is something you wish to deal with, but I would appreciate it if you could find this man and give him a copy of this letter, so that he can know that his bad temper for all of thirty seconds means I will never see my grandmother awake again.

Yours faithfully,

Sarah McCulloch


I received a letter a few days ago from South West Trains abjectly apologising and stating that the line manager of the driver in question would be handed a copy of my correspondence and after interviewing the man concerned, “a number of options are then open to them”, which sounded sufficiently ominous.