Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Back on Track?

Those you that have travelled by train in the UK recently will be pleased to hear that the government, whose interest in railroads I though had ended with privatisation, are getting back into the game. Now they are having 1000 new coaches built, presumably out of public funds, which they will then lease back to the multivarious train operators who will then tack these coaches onto the end of their trains so you won't have to stand in the toilet any more.
I can't believe that I'm alone in thinking this is a weird strategy. No doubt the operators in question will receive an enforcement letter :

"Dear Sirs,
Please be advised that you must attach the enclosed carriage (under separate cover as it was too large for the Post Office to handle) on to the 8:35 from Victoria to Bognor Regis.
Hoping this finds you as it leaves me at present,
Patricia Hewitt (If you'll just let me finish, I'm standing in for the Minister of Transport whose train got cancelled this morning)"

Since most of the train companies appear to be making a healthy profit, why they can't buy their own rolling stock is a bit of a moot point. They have been quick enough to remove toilets to allow for more people, thereby boosting sales, since standing passengers pay exactly the same as those smug looking ones who got on ahead of you and grabbed all the seats. A few more coaches would surely not have harmed their bottom line too much.
And train travel is hardly much of a joy now. For a start, finding a timetable is an internet adventure with the demise of Bradshaw. I recently tried to look up the services offered by the websites of two rail companies. Both demanded that I "registered" on their site and selected a password, presumably to prevent any dastard from buying a ticket on their over-priced service for me. I then had to specify details of my journey on their planner. Bradshaw could have given me this information without asking any questions but that's too simple a solution in this age of "information technology."
In desperation, I turned to the government site which mercifully required me neither to register nor to select a password. From them I gleaned all the information I needed, times, fares etc. which enabled me to present myself at the station at the appropriate time to catch my train.
It was cancelled.
Which is exactly the reason that I do most of my travelling in Britain by coach, where I am assured of a seat at a realistic price. So far, they have never failed me.



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