View Full Version : UK Trains Companies - Have they cracked Time Travel?

Two's in
27th Aug 2010, 22:44
When I was a young thruster in the UK, I used to catch the train regularly between Cambridge and London. Not only did trains run regularly, but you could go in to Liverpool St (direct) or Kings X via Royston. Now I am returning for a visit after some time out, I wanted to catch a train again for old times sake. Here's the stuff I struggle with:

1. I go to National Rail website which gives the impression of being a single point of access, but when you try and book a ticket, not only do you get redirected back to the rail operators individual website, but some of them want to charge you more for booking online. (Cluebird - web bookings don't require gormless [email protected] to sell the ticket - it's automatic and hence, cheaper)

2. When I try to book from the West Country to Cambridge direct it shows a price of GBP 58.00, but if I book from the West Country to London, and then London to Cambridge, the total is GBP 30.00! Now allowing a fiver to grab the tube, why would I pay 23 quid extra for one ticket instead of buying two that give me same journey?

3. The London to Cambridge leg shows 1 connection in Royston, but a closer examination of the microdot printing shows that the Royston to Cambridge leg is actually on a bus! Now I remember what used to pi$$ me off immensely from all those years ago was trying to get anywhere on a Sunday without having to decamp onto a crappy bus due to "Engineering" work.

4. So to avoid the Royston bus trip I tried booking out of Liverpool Street but the website will only show a connection back to Kings Cross and then back on the bus at Royston. So is this something to do with Rail Operators extending their monopolies, or do trains not go through Camridge directly from London anymore?

I am impressed that in the 30 years since I regularly used trains in the UK the operators seem to have succesfully recreated the most unusable, owner focused excuse for public non-transport system since British Rail used to fark it up on a regular basis.

So true to form I shall instead rent somethng akin to what I drive in the States and send some Polar Bears for an early bath instead, while contributing to milder winters in Verkoyhansk. Good job National Rail.

27th Aug 2010, 22:46
Welcome to the Tory Governement 1979-1997 & the unintended nor thought through consequences of privatisation. Final above inflation price rises and bodycount TBC.

27th Aug 2010, 23:08
Thanks Para

can you tell us what your beloved labour have done to improve things?

27th Aug 2010, 23:22
In France, we have high-speed train services at a "resonable price". When they're not on strike. Thanks to a 100% interest in these train services by the French government.

You're merely experiencing the UK's preferred "public/private partnerships" strategy. Which basically rewards anyone with experience of operating a train set in their childhood, proposing a solution to the government, having it approved then being showered by govt. subsidies in order to contue operating. Nothing changes, services remain much the same cxompared to when British Rail was 100% government owned. Ask anyone who invested in the Channel Tunnel rail link?

You see it everywhere nowadays, governments don't want the responsibility (even though they're being paid for it - or did you see your taxes go down?). Every time you see a newspaper report about a council "off-loading" a very standard function, awarding the contract to some private enterprise - BEWARE! Why? Because any private enterprise will have somehow obtained some form of guarantee, ensuring that they will make a profit, or else/or in addition to, being able to just walk away if the worst arrives...

There are very subtle differences between France and the UK when it comes to managing local services. But the differences between Europe and say, Kenya, may be less apparent.

27th Aug 2010, 23:40
At least on British Rail you could get a decent breakfast. These days only travel First Great Western - Didcot to Paddington or Didcot to Camarthon and return. Find them to be reliable and not too expensive.

27th Aug 2010, 23:55
When we were deprived of the national sport of ranting against British Rail, the idea was a free-for-all (well, many of the Operating Companies were bought for peanuts) but with some sort of Regulator to keep everything sane until the last railway closed. (Cos that's what they were going to do. Everyone knew that. Innit. Er, no, actually, but no-one guessed that.)

Now the Regulator and his staff in the early years were ex-BR people, some of whom actually knew how to run a railway. But then someone called John Prescott started a series of policy changes, which meant that the people who actually knew elbows from arses left in disgust, and the overall control shifted to civil servants, many of whom would never recognise an arse when they met one in the street, let alone a rail timetable. "After all" I was solemly informed a few years back by Someone Important "Railtrack have computers to sort out timetables, so we can leave that to them."

You can see where this is all going, can't you? You have quite a number of people (all right, with computers) who are working quite hard to make timetables work. And locomotives. And signals. And tracks. (And of course operational staff, some of whom try to be very good indeed.)

And then you have a small number of civil servants (qualified as above) who make changes because they can, and for no operational, logical, or business reason. Except that they have successfully deleted the rail connection from Royston to Cambridge. Result!

28th Aug 2010, 00:30
can you tell us what your beloved labour have done to improve things?Absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence.

28th Aug 2010, 00:43
OK - Interest declared - I am a Chartered Surveyor (Realtor) who worked thirty years on British Railways.

In our last year as a unified industry - albeit publicly owned - the taxpayer got a bill of 1.1Bn for running the UK rail system

Now that the railways are run by a conglomerate of private companies and a wunch of bankers the taxpayer gets a bill of over 6.5Bn and Branson, Souter and Lockhead get very rich.

If anyone can tell me how the system, fifteen years on, is better, more efficient, cheaper at the point of delivery, now that it is in private hands in it's current disaggregated state, I will be very interested to hear how and why it is better; after, that is, recovering from splitting my sides laughing, before I burst into tears at what the white socked spivs of the Tory party did to the industry, and the neglect and slow decline of the thirteen years of gutless incompetence by the last government who did nothing to put it right.

And yes - its not just singles that can be cheaper than returns - you want to try composite singles purchases as Manchester to Stoke and Stoke to London can be far cheaper than a through ticket. What yield managing Erk created that nonsense???

If it wasn't such a tragedy it would be funny

Krystal n chips
28th Aug 2010, 05:59
To answer the OP's question about time travel....they are working towards this in their own sweet unregulated ( sorry, just a cynical passenger typo error here re regulation ) way as you can see below....:

BBC News - Peak rail times 'are confusing', Which? suggests (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11092037)

The 3pm 'peak' rail fare rip-off | This is Money (http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/bargains-and-rip-offs/travel/article.html?in_article_id=513033&in_page_id=1093)

Prior to being elected....so to speak...one of the current junta observed what most rational people have known from the onset...that the privatisation of BR was one too many....so in that case, will this now be rescinded ?.....to quote the Eagles immortal comment when they broke up..."only when hell freezes over".

Cardinal Puff
28th Aug 2010, 06:07
...many of whom would never recognise an arse when they saw one in the mirror...

Fixed that for you Jim...:ok:

Standard Noise
28th Aug 2010, 06:15
Unfortunately I have to go up to the shitty of London every three months for a meeting. I find the best way to book tickets is as two single journeys, and booking around three weeks in advance does the trick for the cheapest First class fare. I don't book direct with the rail company as I found their website to be a pain in the Aris, much prefer Trainline.

Gertrude the Wombat
28th Aug 2010, 09:26
The actual trains between Cambridge and London mostly run OK, and they're much faster than they used to be and there are far more of them than there used to be. When I was a student the fastest was 1hr15, now something like 48 minutes, and then they were one an hour with a two hour gap in the middle of the afternoon, now at least one every half hour.

Personally I just turn up at the station (KC if starting from London), buy a ticket, and get on the next train, which rarely involves a wait of more than half an hour (Sunday evenings excepted perhaps - but you have to go to the station to find what trains are really running, I've certainly caught a direct train that was cancelled according to the web sites).

If you care about paying the lowest price then you're in for several hours of hassle starting several months before you want to travel. But I value my time higher than that so don't bother.

IME the problems are with the ticket purchase system not with the actual trains.

28th Aug 2010, 10:32
I'm sure that the system for railway fare pricing is based on the same principles as that for air fare, and somewhere includes a random number generator.

On one occasion, having pre booked and been allocated a seat, I was told by the gripper (otherwise called 'train manager' - most of them seem unable to manage to organise a booze up in a brewery) that my ticket was invalid and that I had to pay an extra 30. Needless to say, I refused and offered my name and address, and never heard anymore.

British Rail could have been made much more efficient without privatisation.

28th Aug 2010, 10:51
The trouble with privatising the railways was the thorny issue of not replacing one monopoly with another. I know, we'll sell the track to one company & your actual routes to loads of others.

Didn't work, didn't work at all. Driving massive infrastructure projects on the basis of an ideology never works because quite simply it ignores the reality of the way the thing works. So we ended up with Railtrack, skint operators on short term contracts with no incentive to invest, a profit motive that arguably led directly to deaths on the network & an impenetrable pricing system with annual inflation busting price rises.

Thatcher hated the railway so much, seeing it as the last bastion of the unionised intransigent culture - which it was I suppose, that she refused to travel on BR.

I'm not saying it shouldn't have been privatised, just that it shouldn't have been done the way it was & I don't know the answer either, I just have hindsight on my side.

28th Aug 2010, 11:02
If it is any consolation the train crew are as pissed off with the system as the punters are. I drive the trains from KX to Cambridge among others and the engineering works at the moment, although necessary, are being badly managed.

As for tickets, if you have access to a staffed station (does not matter which company) go there to buy advance tickets. The computer system has the latest most up to date fares and the clerk will identify the cheapest for you. No booking fees. The various ticket selling websites that are independant from the TOCs will often not identify the cheapest ticket, they do after all work on a commission basis.

One company (they advertise using a weak analogy between sheep and ticket buying) are being investigated for sharp practises. After buying your ticket on-line you are given an opportunity to get 15 off their next ticket. Clicking on the button redirects you to a holiday discount site that invites you to participate. In very small typeface it states free trial. 35 days later it will debit your bank account for a 99 subscription. So this company after 35 days are passing your bank details to a third party.


28th Aug 2010, 11:41
Don't blame the Conservatives, their hands were tied as they were forced into the privatisation by the European Commission.

Don't believe me? How about Bob Crowe, RMT General Secretary (http://www.poptel.org.uk/against-eurofederalism/d111crow.html)?

.....British Rail was privatised over 10 years ago by a Tory government carrying out a European Commission rail directive 91/440/EEC (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EU_Directive_91/440), which demands the split of 'wheel and steel' in order to create market conditions in what is effectively a natural monopoly.....

28th Aug 2010, 12:13
Don't believe me?Not really. that is at best a half truth, since neither Greece nor Eire have followed directive 91/440 & we haven't seen the Eu tanks on the lawns of either parliament. Come to think of it, neither have we when you consider Northern Ireland.

The reality is that Major's 1992 manifesto included a vague commitment to privatise the railway & when they unexpectedly won that election, they were forced into acting to meet a commitment that more or less sat with theirs & the Adam Smith institutes ideological agenda.

The idea that we follow each & every EU directive slavishly is garbage & yet depressingly familiar as a distorted semi truthful political point emanating from the usual sources.

Evening Star
28th Aug 2010, 15:06
Not really. that is at best a half truth, since neither Greece nor Eire have followed directive 91/440 & we haven't seen the Eu tanks on the lawns of either parliament. Come to think of it, neither have we when you consider Northern Ireland.

Neither have the Germans. Furthermore, they now own one of the British freight operators and are bidding to run passenger services.

There can be no weakly hiding behind EU directives here. Privatisation was ideologically driven and was botched.

Want to see how it should be done? Try the Germans. Irony is that their method of privatisation is by splitting the national rail operator into business sectors. If that sounds familiar, that was precisely what BR did in the 1980's, with BR at privatisation being probably the most efficient it had ever been. If we had privatised that way it might have worked.

28th Aug 2010, 15:14
Not only bidding for passenger operations but operating them already. London Overground, Chiltern, Wrexham and Shropshire all have DB Schenker part ownership along with the Tyne and Wear metro. I know of a lot of traincrew who would be only too happy to swap their current bus company owners for DBs.

Evening Star
28th Aug 2010, 15:23
Not only bidding for passenger operations but operating them already. London Overground, Chiltern, Wrexham and Shropshire all have DB Schenker part ownership along with the Tyne and Wear metro. I know of a lot of traincrew who would be only too happy to swap their current bus company owners for DBs.

Indeed. Worth taking a look at the political connections in 1997 of at least one of the bus companies.

Furthermore, Gourvish et al, all comment that certain civil servants believed that they were privatising a declining industry (based on passenger numbers then) so it was best handed to the bus operators. Taught me to never again trust the foresightedness of the British civil service.

28th Aug 2010, 15:31
Well, all I can say is that they have not cracked time travel in terms of prices.

The last time I travelled by rail in the UK was 2 years ago. I was flying in from S France on Easyjet for a school reunion in Bath. Arrived at Paddington and tried to buy a ticket.

120 quid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The last time I had bought a ticket from Paddington to Bath had been 40 years earlier and, as I recall, it cost 19 shillings and 6 pence.

The Easyjet flight cost less.

Something is seriously wrong.

28th Aug 2010, 15:34
Just realised that all the Arriva train services (Cross Country, Wales,) along with its bus services have been bought by DBs for 1.585bn. I have worked for two bus companies running train services. Initially after privatisation it was fine as we still had BR management. Cost cutting followed soon after as the bus managers were parachuted in and tried to run it as a bus company. Both companies subsequently lost the franchises and still continue to be awarded others and then lose them again.


28th Aug 2010, 15:44
Here is the email to cross country trains sent by me, I apologise for the bad grammar but I was sending it from my crackberry. Sent 26th July.

I am on the 1115 from southampton to manchester Piccadilly at the moment. The seat reservation system is not working, again, we are sat 4 rows apart, we are lucky that we've managed to obtain any seats as the train is full to bursting. The real problem is the fact that your company is unable to provide adequate accommodation for all passengers and their luggage. our luggage is in the vestibule as both racks are full and overflowing in carriage c and I assume the rest of the train.. There are passengers standing as well. The luggage space is wholly inadequate for a cross country service and this makes the journey stressful, as I am now worried about my luggage being out of sight entirely. I expect a full refund of my fare as the service is not what was paid for. I have bought 2 seats at 27/person.

We were also shouted at by the train manager, because all our luggage should be kept with us! He then departed not to be seen again until after we had passed New Street. It sums up everything that is wrong with the train system in the UK that a cross country set comprises a FOUR car set! The train started it's journey in Bournmouth.

28th Aug 2010, 15:58
We can put the blame on Beardie Branson for this one. When he acquired the XC franchise he rightly decided to replace the time expired rolling stock and locomotives. He had the option of flexible sets of carriages with locos at both ends allowing up to 10 carriages on busy trains or fixed 4 or 5 car multiple units. He decided on the latter, cheap option.

You are right Lexy. It is a disgrace that a XC train passing through major population centres should be 4 cars long. What also does not help is that in order to maximise revenue they stop at 'every lamp-post' which turns them into local commuter trains at the same time. I avoid XC trains at every opportunity. They recently removed the buffets and rely on a trolley service that can not operate as there is inadequate provision for luggage so the aisles are blocked. Spare a bit of sympathy for the passengers on the Saturday service from Aberdeen to Penzance, over 40 stops on a 4 car set with no buffet and toilets that will run out of water before Birmingham.

28th Aug 2010, 16:01
I forgot to mention that the train manager also said that if they will bring ships into Southampton what are the train companies expected to do. I suggested contacting BPA and getting a shipping schedule and putting more cars on.

28th Aug 2010, 16:09
and putting more cars on.Due to Beardie there aint any.

XC are more than aware of the cruise ships as the cruise company usually offer free rail travel to and from Southampton or free parking and block book as many seats on the train as they need to in advance of the public being able to do so. Joe Public then takes pot luck.

28th Aug 2010, 23:52
And beardie is still being paid a subsidy to run his trains by er, you and me the taxpayer. In fact, beardie got more money from us in 2005 than the entire B.R. network did fifteen years earlier! He even had the cheek to buy his trains from the Belgians, THE BELGIANS!

29th Aug 2010, 03:39
I wonder why the British rail network is so fragmented. I mean fragmented because it seems that it has been privatised to the extreme. i mean, in other countries, the system is in the hands of private companies, but the planning is still in the hands of the government. That means that, for example, the high speed network was coordinated and ready to go in no time, while it seems that it will take Britain at least 15 years to get a high speed train network. It seems that, when UK privatised the rail, it was everything that was privatised, meaning that even planning was privatised. What other countries seem to be doing is planning the network, and then asking which provate companies are going to develope it. In UK, it seems like the network has been left to private profiteering and to the trust in the wish that competition would organise a balanced network.

I don't know too much about the British rail system, but it strikes me as lacking of central planning. Coming from another european country, it also strikes me as being disproportionately expensive. It should be, in my humble opinion, an affordable option for domestic travel, but most of the times you can find an air fare like half as expensive as a rail fare. Something in the process of privatisation must have gone wrong.

sea oxen
29th Aug 2010, 04:11
Welcome to the Tory Governement[sic]

Your lot had thirteen years to un-screw things. Remind me. How far did they get?


29th Aug 2010, 07:17
Who ever said my lot? For the 2nd time in this thread, I am obliged to deny being a labour supporter, inspite of having already done so - at length - twice. It amounts to one of two possibilities: you've weighed in without reading the thread through, or you just didn't understand what was being written.:hmm:

29th Aug 2010, 11:29
As much a myself and the majority of other drivers would like to see re-nationalisation it is very unlikely to happen. If the Labour party had stuck to their 1997 manifesto promise it may have been possible then, too many vested interests now. Privatisation has been a success in relation to pay and T&Cs for traincrew. Rather that recruit and train new drivers the various TOCs embarked on a programme to 'poach' drivers from other companies by offering higher wages across the board. It can be seen why when in 1998 my old company trained 13 drivers from ab initio and the published cost was 1.2m. There is also no pay to drive on the railway and strong trade unionism will ensure it does not happen as the railway beancounters are well aware of the recruiting practises of some airlines. There was an effort some years ago to set up a company to privately train wannabes up to a standard that would allow TOCs to just do the equivelent of type rating and line training. It faded away very quickly.

29th Aug 2010, 12:38
While Deutsche Bahn do the best Timetable for UK railways, they might as well sort out the rest of the mess too.


29th Aug 2010, 13:09
I tried getting tickets for Milton Keynes to Sheffield. Cheapest return tickets were for 110 quid for the times of day I wanted to travel, and it involved my having to change TWICE with only five minute gaps between trains.

Since my travel is going to be paid for, I thought I would take the single change option and book more expensive tickets - only to find out that the national rail site isn't allowing me to book for some reason, is giving me only 'Advance' fare and not 'Anytime' which means that I have to take those specific trains. With a six and seven minute gap for changing, I can't afford to take a risk. I'm going for an interview.

So I'm renting a car - 25 for the car, 5 for sat nav, at 120 miles each way around 20 litres of fuel. Will take me the same time as the train, all of the driving is on the motorway and will cost my prospective employers less than half. Driving may not be as tension-free as sitting on a train, but is certainly more relaxing than having to run from one platform to another.

sea oxen
29th Aug 2010, 13:27

I humbly submit my apology and retract my allegation.


29th Aug 2010, 13:31
You won't see OMG on a UK train.

Gives her gas.

tony draper
29th Aug 2010, 13:52
Never been the same since they abandoned proper engines powered by good honest coal and steam,