We apologise for this delay…

Sitting on a (yet again) delayed First Capital Connect train this morning, the chap next to me was busy tweeting his views on the service and reading out extracts of abuse from other tweets, and the Facebook FCC hate group.  All a pretty entertaining way to wile away the time while the train crawled through south London. Searching Twitter and Facebook for comments on FCC and Southern Trains, its counterpart on the Brighton line, I could only find negative remarks: “The lesser spotted ‘On Time’ variety of the First Capital Connect train” and “Train is clearly running late. Not a single announcement. First Capital Connect at its best” and “First Capital Connect services have all the vim and vigour of a hungover panda with its head in a pail.” Some people put a great deal of thought, wit and effort into their 140 characters. Yet only a few had thought to thank the train companies when their train arrived on time – “Bizarrely First Capital Connect have done something that makes sense for once.”

And why should they? They pay for a service (£3,708 for an annual season ticket from Brighton to Victoria in 2012) and they expect to receive it. Commuting is enough of a hassle without late trains, packed carriages and diverted routes (the London Bridge train this morning rather remissingly failed to stop at London Bridge).

It’s all rather reminiscent of facilities management. The feedback (read complaint) board at my local gym is a litany of moans (why isn’t the Jacuzzi working? The shower are always dirty, why don’t you clean them? The music is crap, can we have something decent?) and most FM helpdesks are the same – my bin wasn’t emptied this morning; the toilet isn’t flushing properly; the sink’s blocked; the car park is always full; you ran out of jacket potatoes again today; the coffee tastes disgusting. And, like with the train companies, our customers aren’t afraid of sharing their views. Facebook groups have been set up complaining about everything from an organisation’s new lifts to the restaurant food; while internal social networks such as Yammer are ubiquitous with facilities-related comments.

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Standing room only

Having moved out of London after 18 years of living in the capital I’m now enjoying (enduring?) the delights of commuting to work. Not five days a week fortunately, but two or three times a week I suffer an hour’s journey on a packed train into London with hardly enough elbow room to type on my laptop.

But, because I’m at the start of the line, I’m one of the lucky ones –I always get a seat (even if it is occasionally an aisle seat facing backwards). Yesterday the train was packed by the time it left Brighton and everybody from Preston Park onwards had to stand all the way into London (unless they were lucky or cunning enough to have positioned themselves next to someone with a suitcase who looked like they were getting out at Gatwick Airport). Commuting, I’ve discovered, comes with its own unique games and strategies (an encyclopediac knowledge of train times, and where the doors open to allow you the speediest exit being just some of them)

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Why the train is the new office

There’s a certain romance to travelling by train. Even if you’re heading out of London’s Euston for the Facilities Show at Birmingham’s NEC as I am this week, there’s a distant echo of more glamorous journeys taken on the Orient Express. There are quiet lounges to sit in if you choose to arrive early for your train, or unlike planes where you must queue for hours, you can simply arrive at the station and hop straight on.  The hiss of the train as it glides into the station is reminiscent of old steam trains. The slam of the door, the station manager’s whistle and the grind of the wheels starting to roll out of the station all feel incredibly civilised compared to waiting in a bright airport lounge or at a bus stop in the drizzle.

And once you grab that cherished forward-facing window table seat, plug in your laptop and phone, connect to the WiFi and spread out your papers, you’ve never had a better office. Whatsmore, you need never move. Whereas the tea-lady has long gone from most offices, the train catering trolley rattles down between the seats, catching the ankles of the unaware, but providing sustenance to those embroiled in reports and emails. And from lunchtime even that most treasured of items: the G&T. For while an open can of lager is frowned upon on London buses, thanks to Boris, it’s de rigeur to enjoy a little alcoholic refreshment on a train.

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