Saturday, June 23, 2007

Riding the Rail

A feeling of impending doom is creeping over me as I reflect that, in a few days time, I shall be in England and striving to board a South West Rail train from Waterloo.
I know now how the deportees to Auschwitz must have felt, since it seems that the company has found an old Gestapo instruction manual relating to the treatment of passengers in their care.
The last time I was in Waterloo station , I saw the shuffling line of miserable beings trying to buy their tickets from the few open booths. As I needed one, I had to join the line and timed the wait at twenty minutes.
Now it seems the company is instructing its customers (although they seem to have forgotten the term themselves) that if, due to the inefficiency of the staff dishing out tickets, they elect to board without and pay on the train rather than missing it, the wrath of the almighty, in this case South West Rail, will descend upon them with all the majesty of the law.
In an attempt to avoid the humiliation and disgrace that might befall me under these circumstances, I went to the National Rail Services website to buy a ticket on-line and in advance. All seemed to be going splendidly until I got to the part where I was to purchase the ticket. Then I was offered a drop down box listing the rail companies (there seemed to be an awful lot of them) and asked to select the company I needed. Apparently, National Rail don't know which trains go where. As I am not an aficionado of the British rail system, not surprisingly, I didn't know. Incredibly I had to turn to Wikipedia to find the service that ran to my destination.
It turned out to be South West Rail.
Returning to the National Rail website, I consulted the drop down box.
South West were not listed. I gave up.
So now I am doomed to show up at Waterloo way in advance of my departure time in order to join the shuffling throng of misery that makes up South West's passenger clientèle.
I see that the company made a huge profit last year, so perhaps they will be able to afford to open up a couple more of their ticket windows soon.
One of the advantages touted for private enterprise is that gives the consumer freedom of choice, but in the case of the British rail system, it provides no choice, a grossly overpriced and under performing service of incredible and baffling complexity.
Nearly all of the European rail network is government run or subsidised. It is clean, efficient and cheap.
I wonder what George Stephenson would have to say about the mess they've made of his invention?

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