Trains are an interest, last week I even rode on one just like that pictured above. For people who know me well, or sometimes visit this blog, that probably seems an obvious statement. I am PRO for a railway society (The SLS) and manage the website for two other rail related groups so train travel should be a norm. Unfortunately it isn’t, partly down to geography/available routes, and partly down to the nature of the rail industry today. This blog post is reflections on trying to actually plan/use the train to make three main-line trips from the major UK rail hub of York; for only one was the train actually usable!
It used to be easy, you turned up, you bought your ticket and got on the next train. These days each Train Operating Company (TOC) has its’ own range of discounts and options; woe betide the person who gets on a wrong train or thinks they can just buy one from the guard/ticket collector. On Friday I was 50:50 lucky, there was a very substantial discount to travel restricted to Trans Pennine Express but it meant leaving at a set time to get the last train back. Why was that only 50% lucky, the event over-ran so I missed the last few minutes.
Even though I take advantage of it because it is there what is annoying to me as a passenger is the discount for advance payments. This is for two reasons, (1) the number of no-shows means reserved seats get left empty and (2) it is simply illogical from a passenger perspective. It may make wonderful commercial sense to travel providers, be they train or airline operators, but for the passenger it means the turn-up and go fare payer (where there is all the risk of no seats etc.,) pays the premium rate. The premium should be for the early booking guarantee of a seat. Why this observation; in my coach on Friday of the 10 reservation slips visible only 4 were actually occupied for the leg specified!
Parking and evening buses
Another issue that creates an issue for train choice is parking and lack of late evening buses. On top of the train fare you have the parking tax as the lack of evening buses means a car or taxi is needed to get you home, and if the journey is rural, that can be surprisingly early. A Park & Ride scheme is great, but useless for the inward journey if the car-park is locked after 8pm so you can’t get your car out even if you get a taxi back to the P&R site after the last bus.
Why do I write this? In a fortnight I want to go to an evening meeting. It is in a neighbouring town to York and the expected 9:40 to 10pm finish is hardly late! However, I will be staying over that weekend at a relative’s house and there is no public transport option back out of York to their village after 7pm, outcome will be a 90 mile round trip drive.
My experiences using Scotrail whilst on holiday earlier in the month were slightly better but these general principles still have validity for services north of the border too.
Seating and people types
The final straw, to this cumulative disaster, is the Cross-Country Voyager train. My Saturday afternoon meeting in Derby shortly coming up has to be another 100 mile plus round trip car journey as everything conspires to make the train a non-starter. The first blow, no evening village bus home and the park and ride alternative would be touch and go for getting back on the last one, so dare not risk. Car park fee at station -don’t ask! However even if I pay that fee the train has such jammed in seating that as a tall man I can only sit in First Class with a guarantee of getting enough leg room.
So another weekend another motorway journey, not from a lack of motivation to use public transport but because it isn’t available as a practical alternative.
Going back to that Friday trip last week, people watching sure is fun. What a mix. Outward it was fine despite the train being pretty full but another downer for evening travel are the parties of tipsy and drunk fellow travelers. Not fighting on this occasion but raucous and with hardly the most desirable language choice at times.