Arrived at Paddington for the journey back to Bristol just before 8pm to find a packed station concourse, with hordes of people gazing upwards at the monitors. (Why don't they provide more seats at Paddington? Actually I suspect I know the answer to that from my days on the Luton Airport board. If people can't sit down in front of the information boards to wait for their trains, they're more likely to go to the cafes or do a bit of shopping. It's a money thing). So... there were problems with the signalling in the Reading area, it seems. The 7.30pm was cancelled, the 8.00pm 'delayed', the 8.15pm 'on time', although as is usual in these situations, the 'delayed' soon became 'cancelled' and the 'on time' soon became ''delayed'. There was a muffled announcement saying something about going to Waterloo and getting the South West train service for west of Reading, but it was impossible to tell whether this meant that there weren't going to be any trains from Paddington westwards, and of course no information as to when the trains would leave Waterloo. It's not a frequent service from Waterloo out towards Bristol, and having just come from Waterloo, I didn't want to make the trek back there just on the offchance there would be a train waiting for me. Of course the information desks on the station concourse weren't staffed, and the station staff were all hiding the other side of the ticket barriers. All we had to go on were a couple of monitors saying there was a problem between London and Reading which would be sorted out by 23.45, and a problem between Newport and Swansea (because of a trackside fire), which would also be sorted out by 23.45. Oh, and the monitors telling us the next train was 'on time', which were a complete fiction.
Then a train arrived, and crowds started gathering at the ticket barriers. After a pause for the train to be cleared of rubbish, we were allowed through. The monitor said Reading, Swindon, various places like Gloucester and Stroud, then on to Wales. No mention of Bristol. I overheard someone saying something about 'swapping at Reading'...
I asked the ticket collector if there was going to be a train to Bristol. He told me that the train wasn't going to Bristol. I said OK, should I wait for a train to Bristol or should I swap at Reading. He said rather diffidently, 'yes you could swap at Reading'. I asked if there was going to be trains to Bristol soon. He looked blank. 'There will be one train leaving every hour but I don't know where they will be stopping.' So I am now on an absolutely packed train, complete with drunken football fans singing and kids at my feet playing with a Buzz Lightyear spaceship which keeps firing things across the carriage, and eating McDonalds (but behaving much better than the football fans). I've no idea whether I should swap at Reading or at Swindon, or whether there will be trains west of those stations. There have been no announcements since we got on the train, except to advertise the buffet car.
I entirely accept that things go wrong on the rail network from time to time, although I'd still like to know what happened today. What is totally unacceptable is the complete lack of customer service. People have a right to know what is going on, and to be able to ask for advice on how long the delays will be, and on whether they should make alternative travel plans. At the bare minimum they should have stuck one of the platform staff behind the information desk, and made sure that the tannoy announcements could actually be understood. They should also have used one of the screens to convey information on the services from Waterloo, and another to indicate what trains were actually expected to run from Paddington over the next hour or so. Surely it's just a case of someone, somewhere tapping the information into a computer? There really is no excuse for not doing so. Even if they didn't have a clue what was going on, it would be useful to be told that!