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?