It’s incredible that with the amazing technological evolution and increased flexibility for most modes of transport, British rail services continue to move in the opposite direction.
Much of the world’s rail infrastructure was formalised in Victorian times - as the leading industrial nation of that era set the standards and laid much of the track. British railway tracks are famously based on the ’2 Roman Horses’ carriageway dimensions, as the Roman invaders to the British Isles were the first to build proper roads, and thus set the standard for the width of horse-drawn carriages that could be accommodated. As horse-power was replaced by railway-power, those same manufacturers who use to make the horse-drawn carriages moved into making railway carriages on the same template - this would all have been very exciting of course at the turn of the last century.
Unfortunately for British rail customers, most of the railway tracks in these lands are patched up versions of those same narrow-guage Victorian tracks. Whilst the rest of the world is sporting brand new wider tracks for higher velocity, and more stable trains, the British system is languishing circa 100 years behind.
Moreover, if you go into any railway station these days - you will be met with a barricade of electronic gates - which dictate that you must have a ticket before you board - you used to be able to buy a ticked onboard, alas only the Airport services retain this modern convenience.
Sadly, it gets a lot worse than that - to confuse and befuddle the unfortunate passengers, a ridiculous amount of different fares / tariffs are available for the same journey; at one stage if you were travelling fron London to Glasgow over the Christmas period, you had no less than 45 different options and ticket prices to contend with (priced from £27 to £304). British rail fares are already the most expensive for arguably one of the worst services. Customers are further cheated by yearly changes in conditions to what is deemed to be ’Peak Time’ service, which has expanded from ’rush-hour’ to cover most daylight journeys!
It gets even worse than that, a recent article in most of the country’s newspapers featured an unfortunate couple who had been fined for getting off 2 stops early!!! They were on cheap day return tickets bought online for £6 each; the fine for making a REDUCED journey - twice the regular full price - at £57 each - a hike of 1140%!!! For any other mode of transport you would expect a reduction in price, or nothing to happen at all. If you have a bus ticket from one end of the country to the other, and decide to stop off in the middle of the country; say Birmingham, the bus company is not going to fine you for having abandoned your whole journey - you paid for it, and have now freed up some seats for other paying customers. This is the real ’Great British Train Robbery’ for sure.
The British railway customer not only has to contend with the most expensive, most confusing and worst railway service in the world, they then have ’Signal Failures’, ’Industrial Action’ and several railway company ’Service Cheats’ to deal with. To meet their rail service charter of keeping to the timetable, railway companies have simply increased the allocated journey time; and if a train is running particularly late, they will cancel the next service and bring the following one forward - to appear more in line with punctuality standards.
In these days of iPhone apps, more flexiblity, increased mobility lifestyles and cheap air fares - it is extraordinary that the railway system is allowed to get away with what it does. Most tickets now are only valid for a single specified journey - if you’re running earlier or later, you don’t have the option to pay a reasonable excess charge to change or upgrade your ticket, you are forced to buy an entirely new ticket. For most journeys in the British Isles, a plane ticket for a similar journey is available at a significantly lower price, and with much more flexibility.
Ideally I would like to be able to buy an e-ticket on my smart phone / iPhone - which I could change and upgrade during my journey, as the need arose - this is how it should be in the current information age.
At the moment someone needs to come in and seriously shake up the whole service. Kick out the profiteers, and smash the Unions and for pity’s sake, bring the British rail service in line with the rest of the world. Anyone taking a railway journey in these British Isles today is likely to find themselves mugged in more ways than one ...