The strain of taking the train

GETTING the train to work is not supposed to be stressful.

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It should make you feel relieved - indeed smug - that you're not sitting in traffic as you whizz past in the comfort of a modern, air-conditioned train.

And when you get to the city, you should skip merrily from the carriage, through the station, and on to work.

That's how it should be. But as anyone else who gets the train to work will tell you, it's not.

The late running of trains, sudden cancellations at the first hint of snow and inexplicable decisions to run services with fewer carriages than normal crop up all too frequently.

But the latest train-related irritation in this particular commuter's life are the automatic ticket barriers at Central.

We can assume when the powers-that-be fitted these devices to remove the need for staff to check tickets manually.

Why then does there always have to be a small crew of staff frantically running between each barrier letting people through?

The machines simply do not work. A high percentage of the tickets are not read by the device, leading to the words 'Seek Assistance' showing up on the small display screen, and driving us all mad.

And to add to the stress levels, the machines are set up to sometimes accept paper tickets only, or paper tickets and the new smartcards.

The trouble is you can only know for sure once you get to the front of the queue, where the small screen is close enough to read the words 'Tickets Only' or 'Tickets and Cards'.

As the frustrated owner of one of the not-so-smart smartcards, I often find myself having to either return to the back of a different queue or hope some understanding soul lets me jump in front of their queue.

My smartcard woes do not end there.

I should be able to top the card up at my local station, using one of the automatic tickets machines.

Trouble is, the machine is often out of order.

The ticket office staff don't have the facility to top it up and neither do the on-train staff.

And the workers who stand at Central's automatic gates, holding portable ticket machines, appear never to have been told the smartcards even exist.

Once, I was told to buy a regular ticket to get through the gate, then go to the ticket office at Central and claim back the money.

Having queued up once to get to the front of the line at the automatic barrier, then again when I discovered I was in a ticket only queue, then again to buy a ticket from the man with the portable machine...the last thing I needed was to queue again to claim a refund.

Please, sort it out.

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