Rail Against The System



I’ve had an experience that directly relates to one of the stories in the news this week.

The list of Britain’s most overcrowded trains is out. Number two on the list is the 7.55am Cambridge to London King’s Cross. Capacity 202 passengers, actual number of passengers 426. I’ve been on that train.

The normal rules of business don’t apply to Britain’s train operators. And, according to “Tina” from Great Northern Trains, neither do the rules of Einsteinian physics.

A couple of years ago, I spoke at a radio conference in London. That meant that I had to keep normal office hours for the day and had to join the thousands of people that commute by train.

In every other business the customer who pays more, gets more and a business’s most loyal customers get treated better than the occasional users. Frequent fliers on airlines get treated to air miles that give them free flights, upgrades and access to a lounge.

The opposite is true on Britain’s trains. If you travel at what the rail operator has decided is a “peak” time, you pay a lot more but you don’t get a better seat, in fact you probably won’t get a seat at all. The people who travel at this time are going to work every day, which makes them the rail company’s most loyal customers. They pay thousands of pounds every year for a season ticket. If you only occasionally travel by train and do it ‘off-peak’, you don’t have to stand, squashed up, cheek to jowl with hundreds of miserable strangers in a stinking hot train carriage. You might even get TWO seats to yourself and a table!

I joined the second most crowded train in Britain at Hitchin, the Sardine Express to Kings Cross. I paid around twice as much as I normally pay for a return to London. I had to stand for the 32 minute journey, with hundreds of other people who’d paid for the most expensive ticket of the day. The accommodation my ticket provided was just inside the doorway, stood, sandwiched between a fat bloke carrying a fold-up bicycle and a tall skinny man who was pushed so close to me that I’m sure I could tell which side he dressed.

As the windows steamed up and the temperature inside the carriage began to rise, I noticed a sign that said, “Great Northern Trains, follow us on Twitter”. I did better than that, I tweeted them,

“@GNRailUK Hitchin to Kings Cross. How come I pay twice as much for a peak ticket but don’t get a seat?”

And their was a reply,

“@GNRailUK Peak services are exceptional busy Graham. Are you able to get an earlier train to maximise your chance of getting a seat? “Tina”.

That made me even more angry so I replied to Tina,

“@GNRailUK It’s not my fault you don’t put on long enough trains. How dare you blame ME. I paid for a seat, YOU failed to provide one!”

I didn’t hear from Tina after that.

Fancy asking “Are you able to get an earlier train?” Not NOW, I’m already on THIS ONE! Did I miss something? Was Tina suggesting that one of the platforms at Hitchin railway station is actually a portal into another dimension, where I can travel backwards in time?

It wouldn’t have done me much good, the earlier train had been CANCELLED!

Craic on!

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