13 February 2013

Let the train take the strain

Back in the good old days, if you wanted to go somewhere in the UK by train, you walked into the station booking hall and you bought a ticket. Apart from the options of whether you wanted First Class or a seat reservation, the price was set.  You knew how much you needed to pay and what change you'd get for a sandwich. You could pick your train departure time at whim (unless you had a seat reservation on a specific train). Life was simple and uncomplicated.

Not so, nowadays.  The price varies for the same stretch of line by extortionate amounts depending on how close to departure you book it, whether it's at peak times, whether you want hifi access, just want a single fare or (for all I know) need to breathe in air on the journey.  You can even be charged the excess fare by the ticket conductor on board, should you decide to go on an earlier or later train than the one you originally bought if that attracts a higher fare. The variation in prices has always puzzled me, when I am selecting train tickets online, and last night's BBC2 fly on the wall looking at the railways confirmed the madness of it all, when a passenger at  London's Kings Cross asked for a return fare to Newcastle and was quoted £301. The look on his face said it all but he managed to stammer incredulously "I could fly there and back for less than that" to which the rather boring, no-nonsense booking clerk replied unhelpfully "your prerogative sir."  The booking clerk had just spent a few minutes talking to the camera about customer service and how to treat the public but had obviously not mastered the technique himself.  Another rail employee was even heard to say you could have a 5-star holiday abroad for the same price of some of the train fares. Given the number of times the train I have caught has left late or been held up late along the line, because some low-life has stolen the signal wiring, I could have probably nipped over to Greece and back by plane for the same money and in the same timescale!

The distance from A to B is constant, the train is going anyway, so why the difference in fares? Surely the nearer to departure you book, the more grateful the train company should be that the train is filling up and not travelling half empty, thereby making them more profit, so why clobber the passenger with a higher fare for booking late? I appreciate that it's all about the consumer having choice but who in their right mind would pay £301 for a return trip to Newcastle, if they can buy the same seat on the same train travelling the same stretch for a quarter of that price? Is it me or is it them?

7 comments:

Kelloggs Ville said...

It's the business users that book that book the cost to expenses and just don't care I guess and whilst they do it the train companies will charge it. It's often cheaper to by tickets for stages of a long journey but in reality you bone er actually step off the train. It's madness born from privatisation.

Kelloggs Ville said...

'Bone er' : don't ever - damn you auto correct!

Nota Bene said...

Don't get me started on train fares...insanity encapsulated in one return ticket...

Furtheron said...

I stupidly paid £400 to get my son and I to and from Leeds once, I just couldn't be bothered to sort it all out...

Last year I was going to go to Edinburgh on the train, but flying saved over £100 on the 3 tickets. Dumb, how green or not is that....

Hippo said...

I found your blog through a Nota Bene who recenlty signed up as a follower to my blog. Naturally, I wanted to find out about that person but was distracted, as usual, by the blogs they were following. The name of your blog leapt from the screen.

I have been reading your blog, from the beginning as you suggested, all morning. I stopped at Greg's death and your description of his final hours.

Not only was it like looking into a mirror, it was a vision into my inevitable future. I am 53 years old, was successful at work, retired early after the second heart attack and am now on a full bottle of whisky a day (plus several beers in the evening when I can't take the taste of whisky anymore), I smoke 40 a day and hardly ever eat. I survive on bread and cream cheese with lots of hot pepper. I have a drawer full of heart tablets and tonnes of Riboflavin, all of it untouched. If I run out of whisky, I drink gin. If I run out of that, I drink local hooch (I live in Angola in Africa). If I try to play football with my boys, I fall over. I get terrible cramps in my legs at night.

All these symptoms will be distressingly familiar to you and I apologise for reminding you. What I want to say is that it wasn't so much your eloquent and honest description of the decline of a once proud man, it was the heartfelt description of how it affected you and your daughter that animates me to go and get help because, despite the fact that I know I am killing myself and clearly don't seem to care, I still love them. Thankfully, I have not yet reached the stage of lifting my hand to them in irritation.

There are no such things as detox clinics here so I will have to return to a country I left in 1988 and work out how the hell I can get admitted.

While I was reading your blog, I left the bottle of whisky untouched. I have just surprised my wife, who was laying the table for lunch by asking her to a lay a place for me. After lunch I am going to shower, shave and change into fresh clothes. Then I have a few phone calls to make to my bother in Germany. I must make them soon as by tomorrow morning, I will have forgotten.

I have also just taken two Riboflavin tablets washed down with water, a liquid I normally only ever used to brush my teeth in. You have kick started my brain into action again so maybe the vitamins will keep it going!

A truly excellent, very well written and emotive blog. I am glad, very glad, I found it.

Regarding this post of yours, 400 quid train tickets?!! In UK, a tiny island? I have obviously been away far too long.

What Kelloggs Ville says has a ring of truth. In UK you can fly for a few quid across Europe and for a few hundred across the Atlantic yet from London to Angola is a couple of thousand. Why should the airlines drop the fares when oil companies and other multi-nationals are willing to block book seats?

Last time I was in Germany I travelled first class on the ICE train from Frankfurt to Stuttgart, me and my boy, for 110 Euros. On board we had a marvellous meal for about 16 euros. Apart from the smoking ban, it was heaven.

By the way, because of my alcoholism and out of respect for the lives of other road users, I gave up driving a few years ago otherwise I would have hired a car and never considered climbing onto a train. Even if I get clean, if I'm in Germany, I would still only use public transport.

Working Mum said...

I agree absolutely. When we tried to book train tickets to London from Manchester for the three of us, we couldn't get a direct answer on the cheapest way to do it. Hubby even went to the station to ask and the booking clerk said he didn't know the best way!! I have given up using trains completely as the ticket system is so complicated.

Linda said...

It's them. Definitely them. Makes no sense to me.