Matthew Munson: The old ‘leaves on the line’ excuse

Delays and more delays

I commute on a weekly basis. Those six words strike fear into a lot of people, especially when you see the dreaded words “delayed” or “cancelled”.

Reggie Perrin, that brilliant comedy series in the 1970s, satirised the awfulness of the rail network. The excuses given for Reggie’s late train got ever more farcical – here are some of my favourites;

  • “Eleven minutes late, seasonal manpower shortages, Clapham Junction.”
  • “Eleven minutes late, somebody had stolen the lines at Surbiton.”
  • “Seventeen minutes late, water seeping through the cables at Effingham Junction – there was a lot of Effingham and a good deal of Blindingham!”
  • “Twenty-two minutes late, badger ate a junction box at New Malden.”
  • “Twenty-two minutes late, fed up by train delays, came by bike. Slow puncture at Peckham.”
  • “Twenty-two minutes late, escaped puma, Chessington North.”

I’ve just been chortling for the best part of five minutes whilst watching some clips on Youtube, but then I stopped and actually thought about it, and became rather depressed.

An even more ridiculous reason halted services recently, in far more absurd circumstances than the fictional ones I’ve already mentioned; a man with no shirt was using the tracks for some sort of audition.

The trespassing incident saw the man repeatedly refuse to get back on to the platform during the evening rush hour before police arrived with Tasers. All attempts to persuade the man, who said he wanted to be on YouTube, to leave the track reportedly failed until he eventually ran off. Lines reopened after a few hours, but trains continued to run slow as a “precaution”, in case he was still in the area.

I despair. But I must share with you some more examples of awful excuses that just make me want to sob into my hot chocolate.

  1. Announcing the cancellation of the 8.16. “This is due to slippery rain.”
  2. Heard on an April morning. The train is delayed because of “dew on the tracks”.
  3. “We apologise for the late running of this service. This was due to excessive heat on the tracks.”
  4. “The train now arriving on platform one is on fire. Passengers are advised not to board this train.”

A recent train I was due to catch was massively delayed because a tree was blown onto the tracks. Fair enough – no train can yet drive over a tree – but for it to then take three hours to be chopped into small enough pieces (when rush-hour commuters are heading to work) is rather excessive.

I was talking to one friendly station attendant, who remembered when another tree had fallen onto the track, and the member of staff sent out to deal with the problem was given a handsaw. I don’t think he was particularly popular that day.

My usual evening train was cancelled the other day because of a moron on the train needing the police to intervene before he went less-than-quietly.  Once the idiot was removed, the train was then cancelled. This boggles my mind; does it yours? The moron had been removed from the train; there was nothing wrong with the service any more. It was perfectly safe once more, and yet Southeastern cancelled the service. Perhaps I’m missing something.


  1. Like most people, I think the railways should be renationalised and all services re-integrated to avoid unnecessary log-jams. But even I realise that such a heavily-used service, especially in the South-East, is going to suffer these kind of problems however it is run. I can only offer my sympathies to Matthew as a former commuter myself. My only compensation was imagining being in an hours-long traffic jam on the M25 or , worse, breaking down in my car somewhere on a dual-carriageway entering London.In the end, let’s renationalise the railways, run them as democratically as possible with maximum user and staff input, and subsidise the services, not the private owners.

  2. Agree with Keefogs. Enough of this “wrong kind of leaves/rain/snow/wind”. It’s simply the wrong kind of train company!

  3. As a follow-up to this discussion, I have just read about Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell’s , proposals for more worker/customer involvement in renationalised public services. No return to the nationalisation of the past which was just a replica of the failed business model that left workers and users with no commitment to the service as it was being run in a top-down, bureaucratic way.We live in exciting times.

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