Rushes, crushes and smoke in a train travellers' week

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The Independent Online

Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent of 'The Independent' travels from Guildford, Surrey, to the newspaper in South Quay, London, five days a week.

Monday 7 January

9am – The strike-breakers' express to Waterloo leaves Guildford spookily on time. Day three of RMT industrial reaction proves once again that South West Trains (SWT) can operate a punctual service when it only has to run one in ten trains. Stops at Wimbledon and Surbiton quickly fill the carriage so by the time the train rolls into Waterloo it is crowded.

9.35am – Waterloo. Joy of joys it is not just on time but actually five minutes early

6.50pm – Waterloo. The last train to Guildford leaves London in ten minutes. Early optimism about SWT's ability to manage a crisis is dashed by the scenes on the concourse which evoke memories of the 1975 American evacuation of Saigon. The Guildford train is packed. Passengers are running up and down the platform in a desperate attempt to find some space to board. For many of us, missing the train is simply not an option. Then, a passenger, blocking a door bends down to find his bag. I seize my chance. I fling open the door and back into a tiny gap between two men making mobile phone calls. As the train pulls out, there are still passengers rushing up and down the platform. I spend the next 70 minutes with my face up against a tiny notice telling passengers how to complain to SWT if they are unhappy with its service.

8.10pm – Guildford. The doors open and we fall out of the train 35 minutes late.

Tuesday 8 January

9am – once again, the Waterloo train leaves Guildford on time but the carriages haven't been cleaned from the day before so we have to compete with fast food wrappers and other detritus for our seats. The train makes the same unscheduled stops as yesterday and, again, the carriage is full by the time it approaches Waterloo. My attempt to find an unlocked-lavatory is unsuccessful as is my search for a guard. Not even SWT have got the gall to send round guards to check tickets when its trains are in such a dirty and chaotic state. On returning to my seat I find someone else is sitting in it.

6.30pm – Waterloo. Arrive early to claim a seat. Unfortunately everyone else had the same idea but I eventually find one at the back of train. Discover I can't open my paper because a man's bottom has trapped my arm against my seat. Two more bottoms are millimetres from my face. Someone shouts out: "Stand by the door so no-one else can get on." No sooner has the train left Waterloo than I detect the distinctive aroma of cigarette smoke. Someone else shouts: "For God's sake mate have a heart." The smoker shouts back: "It's a smoking carriage, isn't it?"

Wednesday 9 January

8.50am –Platform 8, Guildford. The strike is over and a normal service is resumed.

8.55am – no sign of the 8.50. The station's public address system announces it will be approximately five minutes late but warns passengers not to wait for the next train as this one is running on just four carriages and they're all crammed full of standing passengers.

9.58am – 8.50am arrives. Many of the passengers are standing. Find a seat.

9.40am – Train waits outside Waterloo for a platform.

9.48am – Arrive at Waterloo almost 20 minutes late.

6.45pm – Waterloo. Although trains are now running throughout the evening it does not appear to have eased the panic on the concourse.

6.55pm – board a Guildford train which has standing room only and ends up arriving at our destination 15 minutes late.

Thursday 10 January

8.50am – Guildford. Train leaves on time.

9.05am – We are all kept waiting at Woking and the public address continues to warn frustrated passengers waiting for another Waterloo-bound train that "mechanical problems" at Basingstoke means it will be delayed by over an hour.

9.30am – Arrive on time.

9.55am – Waiting outside Canada Water station after delays on the Jubilee Line have disrupted the service. Sit back and begin to fill in my compensation claim form for the week.

Friday 11 January

8.55am – I arrive late at Guildford station. But SWT is running even later and the 8.50 doesn't pull in until 8.56am. The carriages are surprisingly empty. Many passengers seem to have enough of commuting and have given up on commuting for the week.