Monday, 24 November 2008

Train trouble

I want to travel by train, I really do, but they don’t make it easy for me. Travelling to North Wales this weekend began with a Friday afternoon Cross Country service to Stafford - a journey of about two hours. The train was late arriving in Reading and it soon became apparent that the reason for the delay was that the train was so full that passengers couldn’t get on within the scheduled stopping time at the stations. We had reserved seats in advance but to get to them we had to pass through a solid wall of people and luggage which had nowhere to go.

Inevitably, my son needed the toilet during the journey. We clambered through the carriage in one direction only to find that somebody had locked themselves in at Reading and despite much banging on the door was refusing to yield to needy passengers. So the only option was to repeat the ordeal in the other direction. Moving through the train was so difficult we decided to leave our seats at the previous station to ensure we had time to reach the door before our stop.

I assumed at first that this was an unusual situation caused by some unforeseen event, but no. Fellow travellers told me they use the service regularly and it’s always the same. The train is woefully inadequate - too short for the volume of traffic and with no luggage facilities to speak of, despite an itinerary that crosses half of England and links several large cities.

Inevitably the delays increased throughout the journey and we missed our first connection so our journey had to replanned along the way, causing much stress and delay. The journey back was even worse - we couldn't get on the train at all. In fairness to Arriva and Virgin the other sections of our trip were perfectly acceptable, but the damage is done. If I have to make that journey again, I'll take the car rather than trust Cross Country Trains to get me there.

It was reported this weekend that fares are to go up by 8% next year. If the objective is really to get more people off the roads and onto public transport, it’s the standard of service, not the fares, that should be increased.

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