I work for an employer who is, thankfully, sympathetic to working from home. And especially during this period where keeping tabs on this coronavirus outbreak is a necessity. And whenever I work from home, I continue to monitor South Western Railway’s performance. Pretty much every single day there is some incident which brings about major delays to the network.

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Over the past week there has been several train faults, signal failures, track circuit failures, and passengers taken ill. Some, like today, come in pairs (faulty train at Wimbledon – passenger taken ill between Clapham Junction and Surbiton). Or was it the other way around?

Yesterday I was due to work in the office, but as soon as I got to Woking there were problems with overrunning engineering works followed immediately by a train fault at Woking and a signalling problem at Vauxhall. So I turned around and went home.

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Britain’s Worst Nightmare – Leaves on the Line

It takes me between 90 minutes and 2 hours to get home “normally”, and up to 3 hours if there is major disruption on the network. This is to travel less than 35 miles from where I live.

All of this is absolute rubbish – and especially so in this time of the coronavirus. You don’t want to be stuck on a train with potential carriers – especially when they’re busy. When I was travelling on the Tube about a week ago, the trains were rammed-packed to the gills with people almost touching nose to nose. How is that going to contain this virus? It was made worse when there are signal/track problems on the Central line – which happened at least once during that week.

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Public transport must do better, otherwise gas guzzling cars are going to be the only way to get to where you want to go in a reasonably reliable way. And we’re supposed to doing our bit for the environment.

GAH!

(P.S. – I use stock photos now. I am that guy. Also: free with WordPress.com plan.)

For the love of all things holy, I cannot believe this company. 5 days compensation is better than nothing, but when you consider it was a full 27 days, it still feels rather stingy. But that’s not what’s got my goat. After reading the initial blurb, there’s a link to an update site which allows you to put in your name and email address.

ALAS!

They’ve not put a valid SSL (or TLS, if you prefer – technically it should be referred to TLS these days, but people are set in their ways) certificate on their site. Which means that any form data transmitted will be sent unencrypted between the user’s browser and the server. This could (unlikely, but still possible) for data being sniffed and captured by a third party.

Another method is by spoofing the southwesternrailway.com domain. I could register a domain such as southwestermrailway.com (as an example) and duplicate the same hostname and the site contents (changing the form details so that anything is sent to me or a file on the server), leaving out the SSL certificate. I could potentially hoover vasts amounts of data as people don’t bother to check the URL or SSL certificate.

In any event, putting an SSL/TLS certificate on your site is vitally important these days, and it’s not difficult to do. I’m still amazed that Bafta.org hasn’t put its entire site behind SSL/TLS (try going to https://www.bafta.org, and it’ll redirect you back to non-SSL content), nor Milk VFX which solicits job applications to submit entries via an unencrypted form. Bad, Milk VFX, bad!

Update: Looks like they’re using external Salesforce CRM to capture the information. The Javascript form code is hosted securely – thank goodness – and it looks like the form data is also submitted securely to Salesforce servers. Even so – I’d still be pretty weary about any site without a proper SSL certificate and encrypted traffic between the browser and server, and not everybody is going to want to scour the page’s source code to determine what’s going on.

“Oh good,” I thought to myself, “the trains are running normally. Storm Dennis hasn’t affected trains heading into or out of London Waterloo.”

Got to Woking station. Train fault around the Surbiton area.

Fun Quiz: There are 200 people on platform 2. Name them all.

It started off with the trains being about 10 minutes behind the regular service, then they started cancelling the stopping service to cater for all those wanting to head directly to Waterloo (see photo above). At that point I gave up and went to work from home instead.

I like Wimbledon. It’s a nice town. I had no idea that I’d be working here, though. Back when I lived and worked in Norwich for an ISP, we had a client in Wimbledon who needed on-site support. So I came down and spent the day helping them fix the issue.

Then, when I went to work for MPC in London, we were tasked with providing visual effects for the film Wimbledon in which we had to make Paul Bettany look like a world-class tennis champ by replacing his balls with CG ones. Oo-er missus. I mean tennis balls, of course – when he’s lobbying the tennis balls back and forth during the matches. The film also features one of the catchiest end credits tunes – Grove Amarda’s But I Feel Good.

But I digress.

Many years later I now work for an e-commerce in Wimbledon. I’ve been working for them for over two years and we’ve just moved into brand new offices (literally next door!). The view from the terrace is pretty good.

Peeking around the corner, on a clear day you can see the unmistakable outline of London:

In short – not a bad place to work. Not bad at all. If only South Western Railway and Network Rail didn’t keep breaking/fixing things every 30 seconds. Took me two and a half hours to get home last night thanks to a broken train at Surbiton. And the journey between Wimbledon and Surbiton was horrendous. Absolutely packed. Not helped with two lads pushed their way on before the doors closed and one had a backpack which took up so much space and kept hitting me..

Ever since I changed jobs back in 2017, it was at the exact same time when South Western Railway took over the franchise from South West Trains. As such, I’ve been constantly late or have had to work from home due to significant delays and cancellations due to a combination of South Western Railway and Network Rail problems. And don’t get me started on the Smart Card ticketing system.

This is in stark contrast to my days working at Memset with South West Trains and travelling between Woking and Guildford. I had to take one of two scheduled company-paid taxis to Dunsfold which, if I missed it, meant forking out £25 extra on a regular taxi to get to work (or turning around and going home – wasting time). I never had to do that because I rarely had any issues with SWT. I can count on one hand the number of times South West Trains had any substantial problem which meant I had to turn around and go home.

The past two years with South Western Railway has been extremely annoying, stressful, and with constant 2-3 hour journeys door-to-door (from Woking to Wimbledon), exhausting. Last month’s strike by the RMT was exceptionally stressful and totally unpleasant. Wimbledon may well as be as far as Mars with SWR in charge.

So I’m not surprised to hear that SWR could lose the franchise as they’ve “been affected by issues including strikes and infrastructure reliability”, and has posted a loss of £136.9m back in March 2019.

Let’s hope something good eventually comes out of this and gives us commuters something better than what we’ve been used to for the past couple of years.