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“What was that?” said Pratik.
“I have no idea. Never heard that before.” I replied.
It sounded like gravel hitting a windshield, something you would typically experience driving through the countryside, not in a First Great Western train on its way from Oxford to London. Pratik and I were on the 18:31 Friday night service to the big city for the weekend – Pratik to visit friends travelling from India and I returning to London as part of my daily commute.
“Man, the conductor is braking hard. Something bad just happened.” I said.
We could smell the burnt brakes as the train abruptly came to a stop. It was clear that it had either experienced a serious mechanical failure or we had just hit something.
I was immediately reminded of the amazing six part BBC series about the Network Rail called “Keeping Britain on Track”. Filmed over two years, the observational documentary (which can now be found on youtube) followed railway employees, contractors, police, etc. and showed the challenges of running the fifth busiest national rail system in the world (in number of passengers carried per year – see table below). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_usage_statistics_by_country
Although the BBC series showed the pride and excitement that many railway employees have of their jobs, it also exposed a darker side of the rail system. In the last 10 years, there has been an average of over 200 suicides by train in the United Kingdom The tv show did not shy away from the subject, which is why I made such an ugly immediate connection.
After almost an hour with no information from the conductor, I decided to visit the First Great Western website for a service update. Unfortunately, my suspicions proved to be true: all services between Reading and Paddington had been delayed or cancelled due to a person being hit by a train in West Drayton. A quick check on Google maps showed that we were exactly at that location.
The train staff went above and beyond to try to keep all passengers as comfortable as possible on the service, providing us with free coffee, tea, water, and snacks. While Pratik and I were tired and frustrated with the disruption to our travel, knowing that such a terrible thing had just happened strangely made it easier to get through the four hour delay.
As a daily commuter from London to Oxford, I have seen my fair share of delays and cancellations due to signalling problems, slippery rails, broken trains and even a heart attack. I just hope I never see this particular reason show up on the board again.Back to top of article