Friday, 15 February 2019
A WOMAN has denied verbally abusing a train driver who then refused to drive two late-night shuttle services to Henley.
Vivien Pheasant, from Shiplake, admits asking the female driver to stop sounding long blasts on her horn while passing through the village but insists she was polite and calm.
In a letter to this week’s Henley Standard, she says the driver responded aggressively from the outset and refused to take her request on board.
The exchange happened on the platform at Shiplake station shortly after 10pm last Monday, when the driver was waiting to depart for Twyford.
She admitted to Mrs Pheasant that she’d blown the horn loudly two days earlier but said this was because drunk people were leaning on her cabin so she couldn’t pull away.
She then returned to Twyford and was supposed to leave again at 10.26pm but refused to continue her shift so the service was cancelled, as was the next leaving from Twyford at 11.03pm.
Passengers said she wouldn’t leave her cab and they overheard staff saying she was too upset to carry on.
A replacement was found in time for the 11.33pm service but most people took taxis instead of waiting.
Great Western Railway apologised for the disruption and said a driver had been “verbally abused by a member of the public”.
Drivers must sound the horn when approaching a foot crossing to the south of Lower Shiplake and again before pulling away towards Henley as there is a level crossing immediately to the north.
Several accidents occurred at the crossing before barriers and CCTV cameras were installed in 2013.
Mrs Pheasant, who lives in Lashbrook Road with her husband David, vice-chairman of Shiplake Parish Council, said she and her neighbours were frequently disturbed by horn noise until midnight and it had been particularly troublesome in the days leading up to the incident.
She is part of a group of villagers who inform GWR whenever a driver sounds an excessively long blast. The company then reminds them to give a short, sharp “toot” instead.
Mrs Pheasant says: “On Saturday, January 19, Shiplake suffered incredibly loud horns from around 9.55pm until after midnight. We asked GWR that this driver should not be used on the branch line again and were told they would be spoken to.
“At the same time on the following Monday, the train came through Shiplake and the driver blasted in exactly the same manner. Concerned that we would suffer another disturbed night, it seemed reasonable to go out when the train returned and ask them to moderate the horn.
“This I did in a very polite manner but the driver immediately became aggressive. We had a short conversation, during which it became obvious that this was going to achieve nothing.
“At no time could I be accused of verbal abuse. I simply asked sensible questions and received negative answers. My last words were ‘Please let us not fall out. Could you please just try?’
“Apparently she was ‘shaken’ by my supposed verbal abuse. Nevertheless, she had mentioned to me that on the Saturday night she had experienced ‘drunks’ leaning up against her cab, which was why she had found it necessary to sound the horn so loudly. It is curious that this caused her less anxiety than an elderly woman politely asking for respite from the horn.
“Another puzzling point is that the driver states that I ‘shouted’ at her. This is physically impossible for me, as I have had an operation that damaged my vocal cords and I cannot shout, even if I wished to.
“Furthermore I did not ‘storm up to her cabin’. I was standing waiting for the train to return from Henley and simply walked up.”
Horn noise became a bigger issue in Shiplake when the statutory “quiet hours” when drivers must remain silent were cut in 2016 in a drive to improve safety. They previously ran from 11pm to 7am but were reduced to between midnight and 6am.
Furthermore, trains now pass through the Shiplake every 30 minutes instead of every 45 minutes after a new timetable was rolled out last year.
Shiplake Parish Council and Network Rail have asked the Rail Standards and Safety Board to scrap the requirement to sound the horn at level crossings with barriers or other safety measures.
Mrs Pheasant says: “We’re hoping there will soon be a trial period during which drivers will not have to sound the horn and this may be rolled out nationally.
“Unfortunately, changing the rule book is no small task, requiring much gathering of facts and figures and it is taking some time to achieve. Nevertheless it will be worth the wait as the impact of the horn on the health and general welfare of adults and young children, woken from sleep, is considerable.”
GWR accepts the horn has caused frustration in Shiplake but says drivers have no choice in the matter and it is working with Network Rail to find a solution. Passengers affected by the incident were urged to get in touch about compensation.
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04 February 2019
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