Nightmare journey! Courtesy of Virgin Trains

Got the to train from Glasgow to Coventry the other day. I got to the train station at 7:30 am, got on an early train…only for it to go nowhere for 2hrs! Finally, they came on the intercom on told the entire train (which now due to the delays consisted of the passengers from 2-3 trains) to decant and hurry over to Motherwell where the train would now be leaving from. We all had to rush off and squeeze on to a commuter train (at the back end of the rush hour!). After a bit of a wait on an overcrowded Motherwell platform, we were off again, on a train that looked suspiciously like the one we’d left behind in Glasgow Central….suggesting that the reason why it hadn’t left for two hours was due to some box ticking H & S malarkey…or because they couldn’t be bothered to fork out the extra cash to get maintenance done on a weekend!

Anyway, I then received conflicting instructions, one lot told me to stay on the train and get off at Wolverhampton, the other said, get off at Carlisle, which I got just as the train was pulling into the station. Ran off the train, and only realised as it was pulling away that I’d left behind my laptop bag on board!

Anyway, the train for next leg of my journey shows up, I was told to change trains at Warrington (another guy on the train in a similar predicament and been told the train would stop at Stafford, but it sailed on thro). Then I was supposed to get train from there which was supposed to stop at Coventry, but it didn’t go there and instead went straight into London Euston. As this was the likely spot to find my laptop, I decided to go visit Lost and Found, but “we’re lost ourselves” is the best way I can describe the staff there, they were no help!

But there were more useful than Virgin train staff, who won’t let me board the train, and then had the nerve to charge me an extra £26.50 to get to Coventry (even tho I was only there due to their incompetence!). They seem to have a fairly mercenary attitude the Virgin train staff in London, which boils down to “here comes a customer, lets see how much we can stiff him for”. Terrible people! While Deutsche Bahn‘s corporate motto is “travel better by train” I assume Virgin’s is “stand and deliver! You’re money or you’re life”

That night I was sick, likely due to a dodgy sandwich I bought on the train!

Anyway, last time I ever go by Virgin trains again, plan to avoid railways as much as I can now and next time I’m driving to Scotland. The UK train system is now so expensive, so badly run, that its little short of a waste of time. Environmentalist I might be, but I’m also not a mug, and if you use the trains regularly, then you’re a mug! Keen as I am on train travel, the UK’s train system is simply so decrepit and eyewateringly expensive that its become pointless to use it.

I avoid using my name sake airline (Ryanair, no I’m not related in any way to this guys, so don’t bother e-mailing me about the time they lost you’re bags) unless I absolutely have too, because while you can get a good deal from them, when things go wrong, you’re fucked! (I assume that the motto of Ryanair is “what the fuck do you want now”). The train companies, notably Virgin, are essentially offering Ryanair service for British Airways prices. If anything goes wrong with you’re journey, as with Ryanair, you’re well and truly stuffed and the Virgin staff are practically rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of what they can shaft you for. Hence, I see little to be gained from traveling with them. As I’ve previously pointed out, its actually cheaper in many cases in the UK to drive for less than the off peak (nevermind any time) ticket price.

Conditions of Carriage

To those down trodden commuters who feel they have no choice but to take a train (or a bus) I’ve one bit of advice – stand up for you’re rights as specified in the conditions of carriage. In essence when you buy a ticket on public transport you’re essentially entering into an agreement with the rail company to convey you to you’re destination within a reasonable time period. If they fail to complete this in a timely manner you’re entitled to compensation. And of course, if they fail to complete the journey at all (the bus/train breaks down or is somehow cancelled or delayed to the point of making the journey impossible) its basically their responsibility to get you to you’re destination, regardless of what that ultimately ends up costing them (if they have to get you and everyone else on the train to travel 40 miles by taxi, so be it!).

Of course for obvious reasons, staff at many train companies have a habit of developing “selective amnesia” as regards these rights, hence why its important that you apply them. If everyone whose journey was delayed by that cock up in Glasgow the other day claimed compo like I did, then after that happens a couple of times, trains would be delayed a lot less frequently, as the company simply could no longer afford to keep paying out compensation! Of course, the rail companies will try every trick they can to make things difficult. The claims process is bureaucratic (they’ll practically want you to show up with both parents to prove you’ve been born sort of stuff), they’ll loose the odd form (course Royal Mail being a similar bunch of incompetent wasters will often do this job for them), they’ll take months to process it, they’ll misspell you’re name on the compo cheque, every trick they can in the hope you’ll give up and go away. But like I said, stick with it. Enough people do, then things will start to change.

Of course, as I see, the quickest way to bring about change on Britain’s railways is to avoid them altogether and deprived of passengers, just let the whole sorry mess keel over. Then on the wreckage a “proper” railways service can be built in its place. I mean would people in any other part of Europe put up with this combination of overpriced, crowded and unreliable trains? No way! they’d skin ya alive! It would be a resigning issue in many other countries if trains were run this badly.

My laptop loss is playing havoc with me. Its like loosing a limb! Again, I reckon there’s little hope of recovering the laptop as Virgin seem pretty lousy at recovering lost property….although my suspicion is it was likely nicked by one of their staff! While I’ve backed up most of the stuff and now have a new machine up and running, I’ve been too busy the last few weeks to back up stuff, so I’ve lost the best part of two months worth of files. Either way, I suspect next time I go between Glasgow and the Midlands, I’ll be going by bus or driving.

The State of Britain’s Railways

Two big stories as regards the UK’s railway’s caught my attention this week. Firstly, HS2 which has finally been given the go ahead (more on that later), and secondly, an article by the Beeb in which they attempted to identify the UK’s most expensive railway journey. The result of this brief (and admittedly not entirely scientific study) are staggering, Britain has some of the world’s most expensive railways!

While it should come as no surprise to learn that the Heathrow express tops the billing at a whopping £1.17 per mile, the price of 80p per mile on the London to Manchester line, is incredibly high. Even the 40p off peak and 14p season tickets on this route are pretty expensive. London to Kettering or Swindon/London lines are also in the +70p anytime range, with an average of 20-30p per mile across the entire country. This is about 3 to 10 times more than what our cousins in the rest of the EU pay for rail travel. Indeed, I just hopped onto the Amtrak website in America and its about 62p per mile (UK) for the gourmet expensive Acela Express NY to DC (anytime) to about 4.5p (yes really!) for a cheap advanced ticket on the Chicago to California Zephyr. The Americans often joke that they have a railway service that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. The UK has a railway system that the Americans would be ashamed of!

Consider for sake of comparison that the typical cost of motoring is about 7-10p per mile. While this motoring cost only accounts for fuel, with insurance, tax and depreciation costs of the car adding yet further. But its doubtful that the cost of motoring would be any more than, say 20p in the most cases, or about half the off-peak fare price on the Manchester-London route, a quarter the anytime price (which would be a fairer comparison since a car represents “anytime” travel) and 1/18th the cost of the Heathrow Express! And if you’re starting to think rail travel is a tad pricy spare a thought for Londoners. The standard fare on the underground now works out at the equivalent of £5-10 per mile! That’s about 25-50 times pricier than driving! It is thus no surprise to learn that the average commuter in England can spend the best part of several thousand pounds, for a spot to stand for an hour pressed up against someone’s sweaty armpits twice a day. The comments page on the above beeb article clearly indicates much anger among British commuters about this sorry state of affairs.

Now the rail industry would counter the above by pointing to their “advance” fares. My reply is, yes if you’re incredibility lucky enough to get an advance fare they are pretty cheap, but they are rare as hens teeth. I’ll do the odd long journeys across the UK and will often specifically look out for such tickets. I have regularly searched the booking system trying to get advance tickets (searching as far in advance as the website allows) and 9 times out of 10 have failed to get anything better than the standard off peak fare.

And at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that the rail companies seem to go out of their way to make booking cheap fares as hard as possible. For example, probably the best bargain you’ll get on the railways, is the Sail/Rail ticket. For an incredibly cheap £30 single, you can get a train and a ferry ticket from the Midlands all the way to Dublin (Ferry and rail combined). I think its about £38 from central London, with similar deals to France to be had for similar bargain basement prices.

However, you try booking one of these tickets through the railway company websites! It will usually refuse to allow you to book a seat on the most convenient trains. This can be bypassed by ringing up the Ferry company, who are usually more than happy enough to book you on the specific trains you want (i.e. the boat train that waits for the boat and coincides with its departure). However, this is not always an option, if for example, as I was over Christmas, coming from Ireland to Britain, but booking the ticket in Britain, you have to go through the rail company. Ring up, and you get put through to an Indian call centre, where they will struggle to understand you’re accent, and to be perfectly blunt, the staff at Indian call centres I find simply do not understand how the British rail system works – which is hardly a surprise nor the staff’s fault, as the Indian train booking system is completely different to the UK one (see here for more info on the Indian train booking system). Try booking a bike on a British train through a Indian call centre and see what happens (when I moved from Scotland to England my bike ended up chained to a lamppost outside Patrick station for a week as “the Trainline” call centre screwed up my booking, I had to eventually transport it south by car!).