All aboard the Camberley Express

Sitting on the train to Farnborough this evening I felt compelled to put fingers to keyboard while I was ‘in the mood’ for it. “Farnborough?” you may ask… but I live in Camberley. Okay, this is what it’s all about.

Camberley stationI live ten minutes’ walk from Camberley station. This factor forms part of the pros and cons equation. The train service to and from Camberley is not the best on the South West Trains network. There are three direct trains from Camberley to Waterloo in the morning, and two returning in the evening.

Now, when I say “direct” I don’t mean that the train goes straight from Camberley to Waterloo with no stops in between, I mean that you don’t have to change at Ascot. For the majority of the day the journey into London requires getting off at Ascot and waiting for the connection (and the same is true of the journeys home). If you time it right, that stop-over is usually ten or fifteen minutes. If you time it wrong, it’s more.

One other fun-filled aspect of the ‘Camberley Express’ is the fact that for all of the day the trains running this route have eight carriages… except for the 17:05 from Waterloo to Frimley (which stops at Camberley, eventually) and has four carriages. Yes, four carriages. If I type the word ‘Sardine’ into my phone the predictive text gives me the word ‘Express’ as a follow-up. If you take the Sardine Express (‘Express’ is used in an ironic way here) from Waterloo it’s not too bad an experience – it avoids the Ascot stop-over and steams into Camberley just sixty-seven minutes later. And you’ll get a seat. However, if you have to join the Sardine Express at Clapham Junction (as I often do) there’s a real possibility of not being able to board the train. People are squashed against the doors and I’ve seen the internal pressure cause people to fall out as the doors open. It amuses me when the guard says “if anyone needs me I’m in the second carriage” as I cannot think what possible way I could get to him other than crawling along the overhead luggage racks or maybe even running Indiana Jones-style along the roof of the train.

So, the Camberley trains are slow, crowded and infrequent… but I can walk to the station, which is a big plus. And I get a seat, although if I’m getting off at Clapham Junction I make sure I sit near the door (otherwise it can be difficult to get off).

Given these facts, I am often on the receiving end of the sagely piece of advice which is “drive to Farnborough”. This is because Farnborough is about fifteen minutes away by car, has more trains per hour, and the fastest of these gets into Waterloo in thirty-eight minutes. The service is on the whole very good. But there are some downsides, the most notable being the requirement to drive to Farnborough and pay £8 to park the car. £8? Surely Microsoft will pay for that, right? Yes, they will, and let’s add on the price of the more expensive train ticket. That doesn’t sit very well with me.

Problem #2 – this is temporary, but at the moment you can’t park your car at Farnborough station because they’re rebuilding the car park. This was supposed to be finished in March (2014) but a quick glance at the date of this post tells you that’s probably not going to happen.

Problem #3 – not all of the trains from Farnborough stop at Clapham Junction, which isn’t very handy if I’m heading to Victoria.

Putting all of these considerations together, my plan A is travelling from Camberley… which brings me onto this week’s fun and games.

Thursday 27th February – I arrive at Camberley station at 07:40 planning to board the 07:47 which travels bullet-like to Waterloo (no change required at Ascot) in seventy-three minutes. I’ll get a seat, but anyone joining after Staines is generally out of luck. On this morning the 07:47 was cancelled. The next train, the 08:18, requires a change at Ascot, which adds ten minutes. Net result, I would be late for a meeting. Luckily Mrs A was taking Lauren to school and was able to drop me off at Farnborough station, where I caught the 08:16. This was scheduled to get into Waterloo at 09:00 but was delayed twenty minutes by “operational congestion”.

Friday 28th February – before leaving the house I checked that the 07:47 was running on time. It was, so I plodded down the road and got to Camberley station. The status of the train was now ‘delayed’. Camberley station’s one employee (who is a nice bloke and I have no gripe with him) was on the phone trying to find out what was going on. The status of the 08:18 also changed to ‘delayed’. Then some info came through – the delays were caused by a trespasser on the line, and apparently they had to turn the electricity off, deal with him, and then re-charge the line, which was an amount of time which could not be determined.

Luckily Mrs A was taking Lauren to school and was able to drop me off at Farnborough station, where I caught the 08:16 (I copied and pasted that from above). This arrived on time.

The story doesn’t end there. If I return to Farnborough station then Mrs A will have to drive there and collect me – the traffic is busy that time of evening and because of the car park works it’s a right old kerfuffle driving in and out of the station. So this evening I was in a position where I thought it would be easier to take the 17:05 Sardine Express back to Camberley and save Mrs A the trouble. Surely they’d allow this as a) the Farnborough ticket is more expensive and b) it was South West Trains that caused me to have to travel from Farnborough in the first place. Surely they’d allow this? Nope. That ticket permitted me to travel that route back to Farnborough but not the route to Camberley. The final insult.

The final irony is that the 17:05 to Camberley was delayed. This, my friends, is two days’ worth of travelling on South West Trains. Bear in mind that the government wants us to leave our cars behind and take public transport.

Footnote: I have a friend from school who now works for South West Trains and he always gives me an honest appraisal of what’s gone wrong. He never dodges the truth but also often states when the infrastructure is at fault, so it’s not always South West Trains. Unfortunately for them, on those occasions, the train operators are the organisations that interface with the public.


  1. I do this every day, with a very similar set-up. I have a choice of a (very) slow direct Waterloo train in one direction or an unreliable connecting service in the other that is around half an hour quicker.

    I buy an annual season ticket, costs me the best part of four grand. This 12 month ticket costs the equivalent of about 10 monthly tickets. That’s quite a discount, the monthly tickets themselves are prices at around the cost of 3 daily tickets each week. So I pay for about 120 days of service and get a ticket for a full year.

    You could argue that I get around 240 days of free travel. In real terms, if I got a refund for all the disrupted days, I’d pay less than that.

    SWT blame the “infrastructure” a lot. They use rails, signals etc. that are all managed by Network Rail. I don’t care. Supplier management is key in any business and, if that supplier doesn’t deliver, they should take action to address.

    SWT have actually formed a partnership with Network Rail and one of the senior SWT managers is actually on secondment to NR to head up all of their engineering works. e.g. it’s his job to ensure weekend jobs don’t overrun and cause an issue to the service on a Monday morning. How he still has a job is beyond me.

  2. I have total given up on both Camberley and Farnborough stations, and now drive to Woking. Almost four times as many trains, and sometimes (wait for it…) you can get a seat! Ok, I might be exaggerating about that last bit. But you can park in Victoria Road car park, although that does add almost 50% on to the journey cost. It is truely crazy stuff.

    1. I always consider Woking as an alternative if I know I’m going to be out late. As the evening wears on the trains to Camberley become less frequent, and on several occasions they’ve cancelled the last two via the Ascot route, meaning that I’ve had to go back via Ash Vale which takes longer.

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