Train travel is utterly abysmal, and doesn’t work…

Whiling away an idle half-hour, I’ve just been checking some train journeys.

Let’s say I wanted to go from Liverpool to – oh, let’s go to Bournemouth. There are two choices – 1 change at £93.50, or 2 changes at £49.35. The first would be very difficult for a fit person. For a disabled person it’s impossible. The second is simply impossible for anyone. Rail travel, quite simply, sucks.

Let’s take the 1-stopper. You change at Birmingham New Street which, as stations go, is not a fun place to be. You have six minutes to make your connection – assuming your train is on time. It can take that long to find out which bloody platform you want – kiss goodbye to your connection!

I once had a six-minute train-change at Taunton (for Yeovil). My train arrived 4 minutes late, it took a couple of minutes to disembark, and I watched my connection trundle off while I was still looking for the platform information – as it happened, the buggerdly train was as far away as it was possible to be. The homeward journey, a couple of weeks later, was horrendous – a 5-hour journey took over 8. The next day I started looking at cars – I haven’t been on a train since. They clearly haven’t improved.

But what of the 2-stopper, I hear you cry? Well, trust me, it doesn’t get better. The first change is at London Euston, where you arrive at 14.05, then you get a tube to Waterloo Station.

You arrive at Waterloo 1h 7m later, but you really needn’t have bothered, because your connection departed at precisely the time you arrived at Waterloo (assuming you were on time – if you were late it gets even more surreal). Yep, I know, unbelievable. True, though. Look, here’s a screencap to prove it:-

Just for the hell of it, I had a look at the Liverpool – Yeovil route, and hey, there’s also an option that goes via Euston and Waterloo and has the Waterloo departure time exactly the same as the arrival, but this time the tube journey takes 1h 24m.

Doesn’t it occur to these cretins that a schedule with trains that arrive at the same time as the connection departs, but the connection is over an hour’s travel away, really is lunacy? It doesn’t just teeter on the edge of insanity, it plunges into the abyss.

And yes, I know you could wait for the next train – assuming there is one (there wasn’t from Taunton – I had to get someone to come and collect me), but that’s really not the point, is it? Train schedules should actually work – these two examples, and I have no reason at all to assume they’re unusual – do not work. At all.

There’s a one-word reason why the system is in such chaos – privatisation. British Rain, for all its faults, did actually know its own train times, and connections actually worked. I travelled all over the country by train, in the seventies, and never missed a connection. And hey, I had no trouble transporting huge rucksacks on backpacking trips, or my bike on cycle-camping expeditions. These days, if you have anything bigger than a laptop, you really won’t enjoy the experience. That’s assuming you can actually get where you want to go – and I really wouldn’t put money on that!


8 thoughts on “Train travel is utterly abysmal, and doesn’t work…

  1. The train doesn’t leave Waterloo at the same time as you arrive at Euston – it leaves at the same time it claims that you would arrive at Waterloo (at least that’s my understanding of your screen capture).

    However, the trip from Euston to Waterloo is only a quick trip down the Northern Line (approx 30 mins) so that gives you an extra 37 mins if the time between trains is 1h7, and longer if the gap is 1h24.

    It’s probably still difficult for a disabled person, but that’s a different issue – I imagine most public transport is difficult, and that improvements are necessary.

    • Yep – you’re right. That’s how I initially read it – then wrote something different. God knows why.

      I’ll take your word about the 30 minute Northern Line trip, but bear in mind that the vast majority of people using the service won’t have the faintest idea about that and will have no choice but to trust the timetable, and on that basis it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s a typo (if so, it’s repeated, quite possibly, on this basis, for every Euston – Waterloo transfer), but who, other than a Londoner (and then, not all of them by any means), would know that?

      And being disabled really isn’t a different issue – trains should be usable by all, not just by Olympic sprinters (Liverpool – Yeovil, change at Birmingham New Street).

  2. It doesn’t take 1h 7m to get from Euston to Waterloo. TFL says it takes 10 minutes. Realistically you will spend more time getting down to the Northern Line and back up than the 10 minutes you spend actually on the train, but not that much longer. The Northern Line trains don’t run to a timetable, they run approximately every 4 minutes. The general advice is to allow 1 hour for cross London transfers, and it looks like it is putting you on the next train to depart more than 1 hour after you get to Euston. If you are able bodied, and there aren’t any delays on the tube, you could probably catch an earlier train.

    • 10 minutes – or 30 minutes – either way, how am I, or anyone else, supposed to know the timetable is wrong? I’m 200 miles away, with no knowledge of Tube timetables, and based on the timetable, no incentive to check it out – it’s not do-able, so no point.

      I should be able to trust, as should every other traveller, that the published timetables are reliable and accurate. I don’t really care that if, in reality, all I have to do is walk round the block – which isn’t possible, by the way, any more than transferring to Waterloo is – all anybody travelling has to go on, in good faith, is what’s in the timetable.

      The fact is that this route, and the one with a single change at Birmingham, can’t even be attempted without detailed local knowledge (in the case of Birmingham, knowing which platform the connection leaves from – knowledge which would likely be the difference between making and missing the connection – if you run like buggery). And that’s wrong.

      Is it too much to ask that when there are two alternative routes, ONE of them should be feasible for a disabled passenger? In fact, forget the disabled – WTF, it’s hardly unknown – that 6 minute train change at Birmingham can’t be done by anybody who can’t run like hell while carrying luggage, or who has no luggage, which on that journey would be pretty unlikely. It also assumes the train will be on time or, preferably, early. It’s bullshit.

      It is, by ticketing Liverpool-Birmingham and Birmingham-Bournemouth, separately, possible to get a viable connection – but that jacks up the fare to almost £100 return – double the unworkable version. And I have no doubt it costs so much more because they’re capitalising on the fact that a lot of people will be forced to take that option. I can see no valid reason.

  3. You are fundamentally correct-the timetables are not fit for purpose-what is the point of publishing them if you require a working knowledge of the tube to be able to decipher them and determine if they are realistic? How is that helpful for overseas visitors?
    I travel by train in Europe regularly and find the Deutsche Bahn website excellent-it gives you proper connections and also is able to tell you which platforms your trains will arrive at and depart from! It can even tell you what type of train you will be on – why can’t we do that in the UK? Because the system is totally fragmented.

    • Quite.

      I can’t travel now, but have done extensively in Germany and France, with no problems at all, even as a monoglot Englishman.

      As for platform information, there is no reason why that can’t be included in the schedule – it’s not as if they change every day.

      And, despite its faults, the system worked far more successfully under British Rail. I travelled all over the country by train, mostly with my backpacking gear (I couldn’t even get on a Virgin train with a backpack these days, there just isn’t room), or a bike with a full set of cycle-camping kit. Try taking a bike these days!

      I once went up to Morecambe Bay by train (BR again), with my sea-angling outfit – I doubt I’d even be able to get in on the train at all now. Mind you, the brakes caught fire, we were diverted to Preston, and I missed the tide. The important is, though, is that it was do-able.

      If I could figure out how to carry luggage, I’d travel in my wheelchair (unfortunately, my meds – stored in an old fly-tying toolbox – are by far the biggest item, that way they’d provide someone to help me on and off, and with transfers. Tempting.

  4. Not sure if that is correct on platforms-I reckon at least 1 in 10 journeys I make (especially on local services originating from big hubs) are subject to a last minute “platform alteration” (perhaps I have just been unlucky). Funnily enough, that never happens to me in Europe.

    • You may be right – apart from a cluster of trips about 5 years ago, the last of which was so horrendous when I eventually got home I went out and bought a car, most of my train travel was under British Rail.

      Other than work on the tracks, though, or something else getting in the way, I really can’t see any reason for frequent platform changes. It’s not like a bus service, when they might find someone parked at a bus-stop so the have to stop further away.

      The worst platform change I’ve experienced (the only one in ten years of travelling Liverpool – Edale via New Mills Central), was when the Edale train had been diverted to New Mills New Town, the better part of a mile away, and only about 12 minutes to make the connection – no fun carrying a 40lb pack.

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