Braving the rails and the horror of rail replacement services | Jack Marshall's column

The Tornado steam train at Preston Railway stationThe Tornado steam train at Preston Railway station
The Tornado steam train at Preston Railway station
Are there three more terrifying words in the English language than ‘rail replacement service’? A few linguistic triptychs run it close: ‘Piers Morgan says’ is never a good combo. Neither is ‘out of tea’. ‘Manchester United won’ is a spine-tingler.

But, thanks to our magnificent railways and the wonderfully competent companies that run the good old British locomotives which traverse our great nation, the fury unleashed by ‘rail replacement service’ is unique.

I approach the subject of our faultless trains, which are totally never late or cancelled last minute, as a lucky man who works from home, but permit me a brief moan because I was recently forced back aboard like a scolded toddler strong-armed into finishing his broccoli.

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I had four trains to catch – a seemingly hassle-free concept. Aggressively-priced tickets were bought. All was set, until it wasn’t: a day before, two of the trains were cancelled without a given reason. I suspect some life-or-death scenario like wind on the tracks or a forecast for light cloud.

Wondering whether I should brave the February drizzle which had clearly caused such havoc, I decided to soldier on, catching a later service. It was the return journey, however, which presented the real fun.

When we departed, everything was fine. We managed two, even three, stops and everything was still fine. Then we came to the fourth and we simply didn’t start moving again, which is a pretty fundamental issue when you’re a train designed to go places.

After half-an-hour of an exasperated train driver occasionally emerging over the tannoy to explain that, no, he had no idea what the issue was and that, yes, he would let us know as soon as he did and that, yes, he was as annoyed by this whole thing as we were, we eventually rolled away.

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Then another announcement was made: the train was now no longer going where it was supposed to, but was terminating four stops short of its initial final destination, meaning that we’d all have to get off whether we lived there or not. Oh, and the train due in after that had been cancelled, too. Good luck.

Abandoned on a platform 12 miles from home, a man then appeared. Hope rose. ‘This way to the rail replacement service’, he said.