I got back today from driving to Glasgow. I really didn’t want to drive to Glasgow, it’s a long, boring drive, it’s expensive and I do (occasionally) try to minimise my carbon footprint (see previous rants on the subject).
However, if you want to travel anywhere in this country other than London, and ideally from a town just outside London, then the rail companies really aren’t that inclined to help. If you want to go anywhere from here in Cirencester, there’s the added joy of getting to and from the nearest station and if you want to travel at odd times (because, for instance, you’re a gigging musician) and go via some different places to take in a few friends while you’re travelling, well, what are you thinking? This is the UK, sir, it’s several hundred miles long, you realise? That’s going to cost you dearly and involve several hundred changes of line. Bring luggage? Oh, well, that might be extra. What? You want to do it all in one weekend? Well, as long as you don’t actually want to stop and spend time in the places that you’re visiting…
I wouldn’t mind so much if there was just one part of it that they got right. If the service was lousy, the journey took ages, it was unreliable but it was really good value, that would be fine. And I’d happily pay the extra if it was a good service; if the train was physically comfortable to sit on, if there was a well-appointed, warm space to wait and read a book in while you waited for the next train. I’d pay good money to sit on the existing trains if they went anywhere more quickly than I could go by car. And I’d be a lot less scathing of the service in general if the staff didn’t have the demeanour of people who’d need to do twenty minutes of positive thinking exercises to drum up the enthusiasm for a suicide attempt.
Last week my Dutch friend Henk tried to travel here from Liverpool on the train. It cost him twice what it would have cost to travel the corresponding distance in the Netherlands and the train was over an hour and a half late. Then, upon his arrival, none of the staff were able to tell him which train to get for his connecting service, even though it’s one stop along the line. While they gawped at monitors like lobotomy patients watching snuff movies the next train pulled out and started lurching slowly to Kemble without him.
The upshot of this is that, having researched the trains, even the cheap advance tickets, it was cheaper for me, on my own, not sharing the journey to split costs, to drive 750 miles than to take the train, as well as being faster, more convenient and more comfortable.
This happens to thousands of people, every day. It fills the roads with traffic and leaves us grinding our teeth. The poor bastards that are getting trains are humiliated, delayed, subject to discomfort and generally mistreated. Does anyone lose their job? Do the shareholders of the companies get this misery passed on to them? Is the transport minister put in stocks and pelted with rotten fruit? No.
Come the revolution, we’re going to need a long fucking wall…