Trains – bloody ridiculous.

If our government want to get people out of cars and onto public transport then they are going to have to look at the utter ridiculousness that is Britain's public transport system. I've tried buses, an experiment that led to a 14 hour journey between Manchester and Inverness which included such highlights as an hour standing in the sleet at Preston waiting for a bus to replace the one which had just broken down, a 3 hours trip on a freezing cold, buttock-crunching, ancient, crap-wagon from Preston to Glasow and another hours wait at Perth because thanks to all the previous delays the bus company didn't have a driver who hadn't exceeded his legal driving hours. What fun. So when my other half and I decided to go and visit my brother in London we thought we'd take the train. My last experience of the train from London hadn't been that great, thanks to a drunken eejit with serious personal hygiene issues and a salami sandwich. I smiled at him as he sat down, his reply was "I wouldn't be smiling if I was you, I fucking stink, I haven't had a wash in nearly two weeks". Turns out he wasn't joking. Still, I thought, if the other half is with me then I own't have to sit next to a stinking freak because I'll be sat next to him. First I attempted to buy us both a return ticket. I went through the stages on the website and then I got the the 'check prices and availability' page which looked like this:



If you look carefully you will see that yes, the figure at the bottom is £752.  That is approx $1310 for anyone in the US. It's only 180 miles there and 180 miles back. Silly me, I must have accidentally hit the "I would like to buy the entire train" button. Then I noticed the button at the bottom that said "2 singles might be cheaper". I'd bloody well hope hope so.  So I go through the whole process again for singles. The way out on Friday, fine, train at half ten, gets in at 1pm and will cost us £13. Brilliant.

I should have guessed it was all going too smoothly.

Turns out that thanks to the work on the West Coast mainline that has been going on as long as I can remember, the search for the Holy Grail was both easier and more likely to prove fruitful than attempting to travel anywhere by rail on a Sunday. After many attempts, the only think I had managed to find was a train that left London at 6.20 in the morning, cost £60 each and involved 2 changes. Sod that for a game of soldiers. So I decided to ring the helpline.

"Hello, this is Virgin Trains and this is an automated, voice activated system". Fuck. Oh well, we'll give it a go.

"Please state clearly which station you wish to travel from and to". London Euston to Manchester.

"You said Eurostar to Manchester. Please say yes if this is correct". No I bloody didn't. "NO".

"Please state clearly which station you wish to travel from and to". London to Manchester.

"You said London Euston to Manchester. Please say yes if this is correct". Hallelujah. "Yes".

" There is a train at oh six twenty hours. If you would like to hear a later train please say 'later'". Jesus. "Later"

"There is a train on Monday the 8th at oh six twenty hours. If you would like….." Oh for fuck's sakes, there cannot possibly just be one train from London to Manchester, running at stupid o'clock on a Sunday. Surely there must be an operative somewhere I can speak to.

So I decided to try the National Rail Enquiries because although it's donkeys years since I rang them I distinctly remember them being very helpful. Unfortunately in the 8 years or so since I last required assistence on train times and stations, National Rail Enquiries have outsourced their call centre to somewhere exotic. 

"Hello, this is National Rail Enquiries and my name is Sunny. Please be telling me what station you are travelling to and from?" London Euston to Manchester, sometime after Midday please.

"There is one at six twenty" Well yes, I know but that's too early, is there anything in the afternoon?

"Hmmmmm…..there's one at 7 in the evening". Well it's not really afternoon, is there anything in the afternoon?

"I give you two trains, one early one not early. You want more trains?" No, I'm rapidly realising that I don't want any damned trains because they are just one big, cruel, joke designed to piss on my afternoon.

"I not understanding. You say again." (sigh) Never mind. What time does the 7 in the evening train get into Manchester?

"Has 3 changes, get into Manchester 5 in the morning." Pardon? I think I may have misheard you.

"Has 3 changes, get into Manchester 5 in the morning. You want book this train?" Oddly enough, no.

In a singsong voice, very fast  "Ok, thank you for ringing National Rail Enquiries enjoy your journey be having a nice day bye bye "

So we're getting the bus back. It'll cost us £8 each and will allegedly take 4 and a half hours. We'll see. Why in the name of god can we not run a decent train service in this country? Every where else manages to run a train 180 miles on a daily basis for less than the price of a small family car and in less time than it takes to cross Russia, why can't we? "Get out of your car and onto public transport"? Ha, not bloody likely.



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11 Responses

  1. LOL! What a great read. It sounds like the phone "conversations" I get into here. The automated systems never work because they can't understand my accent. I think the trains here are very expensive too – it is cheaper to fly, but then you have all the problems associated with getting into the plane. China goes a better job with their trains!!

  2. I was speaking to someone who's relocated from our S. Africa office the other day and he was waxing lyrical about the British transport system. In my head I thought – you just wait til you've lived here a while matey, and we'll see if you're quite as enthusiastic about it in a couple of months time!

  3. Christ, South African transport must really be shit if he's amazed by ours. It's fractionally better in London than Manchester but I still never cease to be amazed how many pervs there are on the Tube. Stilettos are especially good for dealing with the types who think that a crowded Tube carriage is a perfect opportunity to grab your boobs. I once got a round of applause from a group of girls on a Tube when I was groped for the third time during my journey by the guy next to me and responded with a yell of "Everyone who is a filthy, groping pervert put your hand up. You sir, yes you next to me, why isn't your hand up?". He moved right away and got off at the next station.

  4. Oh my word – sooooooooooooo good on you!!!!
    I've never had my boobs grabbed but have certainly had men's groins way too close for any sort of comfort!

  5. [esto es genial]

  6. They do your head in don't they? I'm all for cost savings but what the hell is the point if neither party in the conversation can understand the other? It's ridiculous. Barclays have relocated theirs abroad and I bloody hate ringing them. Trying to explain my banking dilemma to someone with a minimal grasp of English is never my favourite way to spend an afternoon.

  7. BT has offshored their 'customer service' centre. The trouble is the 'customer service' centre is obviously regarded with the same low levels by the rest of BT as it is regarded by the likes of you and me.

    It took three THREE weeks to get the BT Vision connected in the new house even though the phone line and the broadband were both done within a week of each other. The reason, it became clear, is because the BT Vision engineers don't like talking to the "offshored" 'customer service' centre. Over those three weeks I spent a total of 6.25 hours on the phone to BT and failed to make my simple requests understood a staggering amount of times. Unfortunately V, I can't blog about it because BT are likely to be employers of mine next year and if they found me slagging off their services… 😦

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