The Day The Trains Went Backwards


Tonight Auckland’s trains set a new high-speed record.

The 5.33pm main rush hour Westbound-train leaving Britomart to go to Swanson took exactly an hour - to get to Britomart.

That included going backwards.

In case you aren’t cool, in fashionable Auckland backwards is the new forwards.

Here’s how this miracle played out.

5.30pm: Announcer at Britomart makes some apology which sends people scurrying from one platform to Platform 5.  No-one on the Swanson train waiting at Platform 3 could hear the announcement (Action Point: Install some speakers on the actual platforms as you can never hear the announcements nor can the guards on board).

5.33: Doors close. Train starts. Everyone in the carriage stares at each other sighs and thinks, oh poor bastards on the other Platform. Something must be wrong with the Southern line. Thank goodness we live out West.

5. 35 Guard goes through carriages and sells and clips tickets. He’s the nice old guy who is genuinely the most efficient, fairest and nicest guard on the service. Big Ups to Him. I think he’s the guy who wears a sign around his neck explaining he is deaf. (NB Not being un-PC but it may be relevant as he may not have heard the announcement on the platform and thought the train was OK to go).

5.38: Just a few hops up the train, well before Newmarket, train slows to a crawl and stops.

The view out the window sucks. How long do we have to watch grass grow?

The view out the window sucks. How long do we have to watch grass grow?

5.40: Guard clicks on the intercom which is a very primitive device as it snaps and crackles before it starts and everytime before he speaks he makes a blowing noise as if he is blowing off the dust but it may be a testing-1-2-3 thing.

Excuse me sir, know what's happenin? "No dont be silly,no-one ever does."

Excuse me sir, know what's happenin? "No dont be silly,no-one ever does."

“Excuse me ladies and gentlemen. We have a train unexpectantly stopped in front of us. It should be going in a few minutes.”

5.42 Time to take a poll onboard. If a train is stopped but will be going again in a few minutes, it can’t be broken down. So   -

a) Is the driver feeling tired and following Land and Safety road advice and pulling over for a nap? b) Is he from Wellington and not sure where Newmarket is so is searching desperately on Google Maps? c) Has his partner rung him about an anxious problem at home and like all good drivers, he has pulled over because it’s wrong to take one hand off the wheel to take a phone call while you’re driving? d) Do new union rules say drivers must take a break during their journey just like Link bus drivers stop at Victoria Park for a 10 minute union-compulsory smoko? e) Is the driver an alien and realised he doesn’t belong on our planet and is having one of those moments?

Answer: none of the above.

5.49: Intercom fires up again (blow blow): “Ladies and Gentlemen. We have a train stopped because of a mechanical problem. As soon as it proceeds, we’ll be on our way.”

Cool. He must have called the AA. Sure they’ll be there soon.

5.59: “Ladies and gentlemen. They can not move it. The mechanical problem is pretty bad. We’re proceeding backwards to Britomart.” (Cue iPod Goon Show song: I’m Walking backwards for Christmas)

Flurry of people reaching for their mobile to explain this will be a late night getting home (again).

Long wait. Finally train starts slowly but going backwards back to Britomart.

6.12 Train stops near the old Auckland Railway Station at the Strand, Parnell.

6.14: Train on another line going into Britomart appears and sails right past us. How dare they. We were here first. What’s the story here? Increasing anger on board.

6.18: Still not a word on what’s happening and how long we will be stuck here. (Cue iPod: Stuck in The Middle With You)

6.20: Intercom fires up, blows: “Ladies and Gentlemen. Apologies for the delay. We will be going back to Britomart and after that we’ll see whats happening.”

That sounds a fun night out.

Cool. Let’s take another poll to kill time (eyespy is so last year). What do we think will be happening at Britomart? a) Will there be a wild dance party? b) Will we get free monthly passes to thank us for our patience? c) Will the Easter Bunny re-appear and hand out his remaining chocolate eggs?

6: 22: Still stuck on the track not even going backwards. Intercom: “Ladies and Gentlemen, apologies. Unfortunately we are held out here because we can’t get in there. Then when we do, we will find out what happens and let you know.”

6.23 Train moves but then stops outside the Britomart tunnel. Stays there for a what feels like another eternity.

6.29: Arrive at Britomart. No announcement, no apology. Doors open. No one knows whether to get on or off but most know the routine by now. You get off and shuffle around the platform hoping we’ll get some info about whether we have a chance of getting home tonight by train or need to find a taxi, bus, start a long walk home or fight the growing number of homeless for one of the sought after street benches.

Fat chance. Staff shake their heads when asked. The destination boards are not displaying any destinations so it’s the usual meltdown. Haven’t the AA breakdown turned up yet and towed that train off the track so we can get on with our lives?

I especially felt for the woman who had missed her job interview. I told her you have to be philosophical and assume it wasn’t meant to be but that’s still harsh on someone who is out of work and had her chance blown.

Full empathy for the woman who pronounced: “I can’t do this anymore. I am over it.”  (Cue on iPod Red Hot Chili Peppers Give it Away, Give It Away Now)

Like others, I gave up and left Britomart.

An obvious question is how can one broken train so screw up rush hour traffic? And why did our train leave Brit in the first place if the train was known to have broken down (if that was known)?

And please officials there are some learnings. You know the same ones from last time this happened just the other day.

Once again Veolia customer service and Britomart communication gets the Big Thumbs Down.

How hard is to make an announcement or tell the gaggle of guards hanging about to tell passengers what was happening and what to do.puzzled1

I’m sure those who bought tickets and finally got on some train going west if one ever did leave later tonight will have to argue they had already bought them - based on an earlier bad experience reported in an earlier post.

Isn’t it time to start issuing free tickets as an apology?

Isn’t it time to get proper intercoms on the train?

Isn’t there a manual about this sort of thing as the script is always made up on the go as if no-one knows what they’re doing.

Get information boards ON THE TRAIN PLATFORM ITSELF because otherwise - especially as announcements are so few and far between - you have to go up the escalators to see the information boards on the upper floors.

Put speakers near the actual trains waiting at the platform so we can hear announcements that may apply to the train service we thought we were getting.

Seriously, enough’s enough.




  1. Nicola says:

    I’m glad I have finally found out what the delay on the trains was today.

    I wandered into the Britomart just after 7 this evening, expecting to catch the 7:25 train to the Britomart but the destination boards were blank.

    I wandered up to someone in a uniform to ask what is going on and my query about the 7:25 train to Papakura is answered merely by a gruff shrug in the direction of platform 4. I stood aboutf or a bit and headed to the train ,only to have the doors snap shut and the train leave the platform as soon as I’m on .. at 7:12pm.

    hello hello.. what’s going on here? my train is leaving early!

    The conductor came around and collected the tickets and everyone else in the train looked slightly irate.

    When we were at Panmure station I _finally_ overheard the platform intercom state that there was a 30 minute train delay and that the trains were slowly leaving the Britomart.

    Somehow I managed to slowly make my way through the Britomart, ask for directions to a specific train and almost read a chapter of a book.. before I even discovered there was a delay.

    This really does not give a very postive image of the level of information given to patrons of the Auckland train system when the services are running behind.. I was just lucky to stumble onto a train at the right time that was heading in the right direction.

    I felt very sorry for the people sitting on the Overlander. It was still sitting at Papakura Station when my train arrived there at about 8pm this evening - it is timetabled to leave Papakura at 6:30 and arrive at the Britomart at 7:20pm.

  2. Dee Crooks says:

    That is the funniest blog you have ever written!! Thanks for making me laugh so hard that I had tears rolling down my face. Ah the joys of Veolia Transport - the one thing you can guarantee is that there is never a dull moment on the trains


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