Wednesday, 23 March 2011


I’ve just watched Richard Wilson’s investigation into what was billed as the “British” rail system, but turned out to be the “English” system. Nonetheless, it was interesting and, as much of the system crosses the Border, appropriate for the blog.

The programme contains far too many facts and examples to record here, but the title sums up my overall impression.

We have the most expensive rail fares in Europe, and, despite having a largely private railway, we also have the biggest government subsidies in Europe.

Rail travel has become far more popular over the last decade with passenger numbers increasing by some 40%, but with seats increasing by only 10%, giving rise to overcrowding of the kind seen in Mumbai.

The pricing system is described as Kafkaesque.

It’s certainly expensive. A season ticket between London and Reading cost £4000!! When “Which” surveyed fares its was given the wrong fare in 50% of enquiries. Despite this the companies adopt “zero tolerance” to passengers with wrong tickets with on the spot fines.

Complex details of when and how to use various tickets leave tourists and irregular users lost. Amazingly if you get out of the train at an earlier stop than you bought the ticket for, you will be charged the full fare at the ticket barriers! Wilson himself had the right ticket, but not his Pensioners’ Railcard. As a result he was charged £273 full fare (Manchester to London). He could have gone to New York for that! Fortunately he wasn’t going from Manchester to Kyle of Lochalsh (£500+).

There is no logic to the fares. Bath-London is £159; Bath-Paris is £120. Go figure. And the wondrous deals that are advertised are often almost impossible to get. As an example Wilson picks a deal of £8 single Portsmouth-London. In fact the only fare he can find is £30.

Network Rail cost has spiralled within the last decade from £1billion-£5 billion and the company is £24 billion in debt, so £1 billion of the £5 billion goes to the banks (where else!). But no wonder the subsidy has grown. Repair costs are between 30% and 50% more expensive here than in mainland Europe.

Ticket bookings by phone are run by an automated voice recognition system. Now Richard Wilson has a very clear speaking voice, albeit with a Scottish accent, but his attempt to use the service was more of a comedy than “One foot in the grave”.

The bulk of the money is being spent in the South East of England with £800 million each on St Pancras and Kings Cross. Stations in England’s poorer North, are left falling down.

The overall situation is nothing less than a farce. If the government needed just one reason to keep its nose out of foreign affairs and concentrate on domestic ones, the forth world rail service could well be it.

Fur coat and no knickers Britain.

Pics: (1)Over funded, under performing, overcrowded, most expensive in Europe, dirty, late... some adjectives to describe British trains, many of which date to the mid 1970s. (2) SNCF, French Railways by comparison are cheaper and faster and a joy to travel on. (3) The St Pancras Station and Hotel had an £800 million face lift at our expense. No such finding for Edinburgh Waverley or Haymarket though. (4) Theresa Villiers, the minister responsible for trains in England, has had a positive experience of the railway system. Probably she was in Japan at the time. A little of this smug woman would go a long way.

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  1. It was a shocking exposure wasn't it Tris yet Villiers seemed to think it was acceptable.

    I never use the train these days because I can't work out the timetables. When I've phoned I've had wrong times twice which has spoiled the whole day.

  2. I could scarcely believe the catalogue of catastrophe that we are paying for. It costs us more to run the damned railways than it did when they were a state enterprise... and they were useless too.

    I rarely use them SR, but a few years ago had to make a journey with several changes. In 2 days I had 5 different trains and every single one was late, but by different amounts. The whole thing spoiled what could otherwise have been a happy occasion.

    Additionally, I tried to change arrangement for the return by 2 hours (earlier train) and was told that I could get new tickets but would have to pay the full price for them. (£180, I think).

    I'm going to Paris later in the year.I must remember that man's advice that it was cheaper to buy a ticket to Paris than to London and buy the whole thing on one ticket.

    I see the bonuses for rail company chiefs don't seem to get any smaller, no matter how awful a journey on their cattle class is.

  3. I loved "shagger" Steven Norris from the Tories saying that the old BR system was a total mess and the Tories were right to do something. He forgot to mention that they made it worse: after privatisation serious accidents went up, fares went up, overcrowding went up, subsidies went up, reliability went down, customer satisfaction went down, maintenence went down. A great Tory success!

    Of course "shagger" was a minister in the Dept of Transport at the time and so would have to parrot what a great succcess it had all been despite the inconvenient truth and all the.....erherm...facts to the contrary!

    Incidentally do we all remember "shagger's" bid to be Mayor of London in 2000? Almost as hilarious as the Labour party and Frank Dobson v Ken Livingstone. Norris was up against Lord Archer for the Tory nomination. Archer won but was forced to withdraw after it turned out he and his family had been embellishing the truth. But by then details of Norris's colourful sexploits had come to light and so poor old "shagger" had to go through another selection process. But they couldnt find anyone better as so he was selected and beaten by Ken. But poor old fatty Dobson came a very poor third for Labour. Almost as good fun as the elections for the Welsh assembly a year earlier, but thats another story!

  4. Maybe if shagger had spent a little more time on transport and a little less on shagging there wouldn't have been such an almighty cock up!

  5. A well Tris! Don't forget they made the same cock up with the buses.

  6. And the electricity and gas and water in England, and phones and... well, let's face it they've done sod all right since Victoria was a lassie.