Dear Fat Controller

Occasionally, I use South West Trains to commute from my home in sunny Norbiton into the City of London. However before you say anything, don’t worry, I am not a merchant banker despite what my friends say.

Today, in an attempt to secure a seat, I delayed my departure slightly and caught the legendary 08:36 service from Norbiton. Unfortunately, I narrowly missed a highly prized seat when a rather forceful gentleman, who boarded after me, miraculously managed to reach the last vacant seat 0.74 seconds before me. Bastard.

According to the official South West Trains timetable, which is proudly pinned up in my downstairs lavatory, this service that leaves at 08:36 should take 30 minutes, precisely, arriving at its final destination at 09:06.

Today’s journey left on time and arrived at Waterloo at 09:14 - a mere 8 minutes late. This isn’t 5% late. This isn’t 10% late. This isn’t 20% late. This delay of 8 minutes on a 30 minute journey represents a delay of 26.66667%.

Still, I guess I should be grateful that the cost of my weekly TravelCard (Zones 1-5) has only increased by a paltry 6.81% from £44 to £47 from January 1. If the Financial Controller from South West Trains saw these metrics, he may well (incorrectly) conclude that if the trains run 26% late, then the cost of the ticket should rise by the corresponding percentage.

During our extended, tedious, never ending journey where we frequently came to a grinding halt outside a station or lingered for four thought provoking minutes adjacent to that cemetery near Clapham Junction, I am pleased to report that we were afforded the courtesy of the occasional helpful announcement from the guard: ‘Ladies and gentlemen. We apologise for the short delay but we are being held at a red signal. We hope to be underway again shortly’.

The thing is - this delay isn’t a one-off. This isn’t a delay caused by the inclement weather we experienced before Christmas. This sort of delay is now routine.

In fact, these delays are so routine that people don’t even moan any more. People just shrug their shoulders, scurry along the platform onto the tube network and accept this poor service as the norm.

Thankfully, I don’t have an annual season ticket and I am not condemned to using South West Trains every single working day. I am an occasional commuter but whenever I do use the service, it invariably arrives late. Once it was just 12 seconds late - if only the driver hadn’t lingered at Wimbledon reading the football reports in ‘The Mirror’.

Now, I guess it would be an interesting exercise to keep detailed metrics for all my journeys in order to support this bold claim with statistical evidence that could then form the basis of a compensation claim.

However, I refuse to do this for two reasons; firstly I simply can’t be arsed and secondly that way lies danger and obsessive compulsive train-spotter disorder (OCTSD). Before you know it, I would be stood, wearing an anorak, on a wet and windy, desolate platform 11 at Clapham Junction late at night holding a video camera, desperately trying to capture the rare ‘337919’ engine that powers the Gatwick Express.

Obviously, I don’t want to waste your time and money by forcing you to issue a stock response to a yet another stock complaint from ‘Mr. Angry Commuter from Redhill’ so here’s my constructive suggestion in order to significantly improve the service between Norbiton and Waterloo.

Simply increase the planned duration of all journeys between Norbiton and Waterloo to 45 minutes. Currently some journeys are scheduled to take 28 minutes while others are supposed to take 30 minutes. This inconsistency needs to be addressed.

Altering the timetable in this way will help ensure that all journeys arrive not just on schedule but ahead of schedule as in early.

This seemingly minor change will have multiple benefits; commuters will disembark, happy and smiling, consulting their watches and exclaiming ‘8 minutes early. Again. How fantastic. What a marvellous service. I really must email South West Trains congratulating them on this sustained improvement in the service’.

Following this modest increase in the estimated journey times, customer complaints will rapidly fall to zero. This means you can sack all the people in the customer service centre with a corresponding beneficial effect to the very important ‘bottom line’.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, South West Trains will meet all their performance targets and you will be eligible for your massive financial bonus and a well deserved promotion to ‘Morbidly Obese Controller’.

Hopefully, you will consider this suggestion and implement it initially on a pilot basis on the Shepperton line, If, as I am convinced it will be, this change proves to be a success, this novel and innovative change to make the railway timetable actually reflect reality can be rolled out across the entire network in 2012. Just in time for the Olympics.

Yours sincerely

Norman Brightside