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Avoiding the sardine can

A lot of people complain about the stress of the daily commute. Far fewer people research the different options that can make it less stressful however.

For example, travelling into London from Horsham, everyone piles onto the same train at 07:25, or at 07:29 at Littlehaven. It’s a reasonably fast train, getting you to London Victoria in only 50 minutes, but it’s probably the most overcrowded service on that route. I was once told (by a conductor on a different train to whom I once got chatting) that the Southern Railway staff refer to it among themselves as “the sardine can.”

It is possible to get a decent seat on it (i.e. a window seat at a table in one of the nicer carriages) from Horsham, but you need to know exactly where to stand on the platform, arrive in plenty of time, and exercise a streak of me-first hubris which doesn’t endear you to your fellow passengers. If you get on at Littlehaven, it’s even worse, because thanks to a short platform, you have to walk the entire length of the train, and even then it’s a bit of a lottery what kind of a seat you’ll get. On a typical day, perhaps a hundred or so people pile onto the train at Littlehaven, most of them through a single carriage at the end of the platform, which doesn’t endear them to the Southern Railway staff who are constantly nagging us to “please use all available doors.” As you can imagine, this is also a pretty high-stress exercise, and consequently I’ve generally tried to go from Horsham rather than Littlehaven, even though it’s the best part of a mile further and I have to leave the house ten minutes earlier.

Just the other week, however, I decided as an experiment to try a slightly different train, which leaves seven minutes earlier. It’s the stopping service which calls at almost every station between Horsham and Croydon, and it arrives ten minutes after the fast train, but it’s almost totally empty when it arrives at Littlehaven at 07:22, so you get the pick of the seats. The additional fifteen minutes also makes it much easier for me to get some extra sleep on the train (this makes a massive difference to my day, especially if I haven’t had too good a night’s sleep), and because it arrives in London Victoria at 08:30, it still lets me arrive at my desk by nine o’clock. All in all, it’s been such a resounding success that I’ve started making it my regular train.

And of course, this is also a win for people who take the sardine can, because it means that there’s one more seat available for them.