Why are railway managements so unpleasant to passengers?

I have been using the railways to visit cities around the UK to make some speeches. One of the things that comes over most strongly to me is the negative and aggressive approach they take to their customers in many of their official announcements.

On Wigan station recently they kept repeating an announcement telling passengers they should not smoke on the station. They told us that the station included the ticket office, the entrance, the toilets and the platforms, in case we did not understand what no smoking on the station meant. They told us we would be fined if we disobeyed. There was no offsetting announcement wishing us a good journey, telling us of the station’s facilities, inviting us to use the waiting room out of the wind or saying there was a coffee place.

When joining a train at Euston in the morning there are often announcements warning you that you must not board or stay on the train if you do not have a specific peak hour ticket for that particular train. Again, the pill is not sweetened in any way. You are told you must get off the train immediately if you have the wrong ticket, and wait for your later train. Why don’t they welcome you aboard, and say if you would like to travel on this train but have a ticket for a different one, they would be happy to upgrade you for a supplement?

On some trains you are also told you have to be an unpaid policeman or support team member. You are told you have to observe packages and behaviour of your fellow travellers carefully, and report anything suspicious. Fortunately on the last couple of trains where I have been told to do this, the carriage was so empty that there were no other passengers in my view, so my duty was easily discharged. In a busy train this could be an onerous requirement of travel to seek to satisfy yourself of the behaviour of others when you have no powers to do so.

There is little or no attempt on trains to sell you other items which might assist on your journey. The captive clientele is left in their seats without seatbelts. Heavy luggage is left unrestrained in the racks above your head if you are in a carriage with other passengers.

The staff providing drinks and food where that is part of the service are often friendly and welcoming. It’s the system and the official announcements that leave one wondering. When I go into my local supermarket I am not confronted by announcements telling me to avoid shoplifting, to pay the full stated price or instructing me that I must not smoke. If there are announcements they are usually about special offers and products I might like to buy. Why are the railways so different? Why can’t they take the laws of the land for granted, and just do what it takes politely to check tickets or deal with any unruly passenger who does misbehave? Why aren’t there more positive announcements of ways they can help improve your journey and enable you to use the time on the train more productively? Why isn’t there more flexibility in the way they do handle passengers on trains? Why do they not offer upgrades to first for a sensible fee where they have lots of empty seats?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

83 Comments

  1. colliemum
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    There’s one simple answer to the questions you ask in the last paragraph, and indeed in the whole post.

    This general unpleasantness and harrowing of passengers is due to the attitude instilled over generations, the attitude which is part and parcel of a socialist mindset where passengers, or “customers”, are an unpleasant item in the smooth running of the industry.
    Privatisation doesn’t make any difference to this attitude.

    You will find the same attitude on display in the NHS, and indeed in government generally, where the public, the customer, in fact where we the people in toto are increasingly regarded as imbeciles who wouldn’t know how to get out of bed unless being ‘advised’ by a bureaucrat. This attitude, always cloaked with some spurious concern for the safety of the stupid people cannot be illustrated better than the jaw-dropping report about the fact that the lightbulbs in T5 in Heathrow haven’t been nor can be changed – because of H & E ‘concerns’.

    Add to that the continental attitude towards the public as expressed in the tons of directives spewed out by the EU bureaucracy, and it’s sad to predict that things will only get worse.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Indeed this is indeed the attitude:- Just think how clean and efficient this train/hospital/police service/local authority etc. could be if it were not for those irritating “customers” everywhere make such a mess and demanding they get some return just occasionally for their vast taxes or tickets. Just who do they think they are?

    • Bob
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      @colliemum

      the attitude which is part and parcel of a socialist mindset

      Politeness and socialism don’t go together.
      Note the recent complaints about Job Centre staff by their customers.

    • Ace
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      The railways are not in any sense privatised.

    • Alte Fritz
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely spot on. And the attitude is when you have the temerity to complain? In a nutshell, be grateful for the chance to be packed like a sardine or charged a king’s ransom or both.

    • Richard1
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

      Good post. The answer is that Network Rail is a state monopoly, and once franchisees have won their franchise they are also monopolies. There is an inexorable law of economics – I don’t know which theory it comes under – where there is choice and competition there is the chance of good products and service, where there is a compulsory monopoly there is not.

    • Anonymous
      Posted November 26, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      The British railway system is now top in Europe for its safety record.

      The hectoring (automated) announcements are often as a result of Compensation ‘R’ Us type lawyering.

      I frequently hear expressions such as ‘Welcome aboard…’ ‘ Please refrain…’ ‘Thank you for using…’ in announcements. Though I’d rather they weren’t made at all at least they are made politely in this region.

    • uanime5
      Posted November 26, 2013 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

      This general unpleasantness and harrowing of passengers is due to the attitude instilled over generations, the attitude which is part and parcel of a socialist mindset where passengers, or “customers”, are an unpleasant item in the smooth running of the industry.
      Privatisation doesn’t make any difference to this attitude.

      So it’s a public and private sector point of view; making it more likely to be due to capitalism, rather than socialism, due to the lack of socialism in the private sector.

      This attitude, always cloaked with some spurious concern for the safety of the stupid people cannot be illustrated better than the jaw-dropping report about the fact that the lightbulbs in T5 in Heathrow haven’t been nor can be changed – because of H & E ‘concerns’.

      Just how dangerous was it to change this light bulbs? It you need a very long ladder then it is likely to be dangerous for the person who has to climb the ladder.

  2. Mark B
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    John Redwood MP, asks, why ?

    It comes down to choice. You can choose who you wish to buy your groceries from. The retailers know this, and so they try to create an environment that is both comfortable, friendly and welcoming. This, they hope, ensures that the customer returns.

    When you have a virtual monopoly, and a captive clientele, the ‘need to please’ is simply not there. So ‘service announcements’ are used to make sure people pay the correct fare etc. to ensure that they get the return from their investment.

    It can be argued that the same goes for political parties. If they do not provide the policies that the electorate both want and need, and just heckle and deceive them. They are less likely to vote for them. But when there is very little choice on offer, and they all seem the same, people simply choose to ‘opt-out’. Unlike supermarket’s or train operators’, political parties are not as needed as one might assume.

  3. arschloch
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    The “up yours” syndrome is not just restricted to the railways. You can see it in action wherever the service provider is in a monopoly position or has already got your money and its virtually impossible to get it back. My favourites here are any utility provider, most European airlines and of course the banks.

  4. lifelogic
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Indeed one needs to travel with ear plugs or an MP3 player so as to in to insulate yourself from the endless aggressive, unpleasant, anti-customer announcements. Perhaps take Ed Miliband’s Desert Island Discs with you, just his choice in music is enough reason not to vote for him. Also he seem to think he can level every inequality and injustice in life (using others money one assumes) so he will will be very busy when he gets.

    Some good news at last, finally (almost) some action on the purveyors of much misery for the dim and desperate the pay day loans people. A cap of about 35% APR on all loans including fee and all charges (with certain business deal exceptions perhaps) is what is needed. It should also apply to bank loans and credit cards too. Why has it taken so long?

    • Leslie Singleton
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      lifelogic–Ever willing to defend anybody involved in lending I have to say that you must try to appreciate that percentages can be misleading. No doubt some excesses can be smoothed away by law, that’s life, but in general if you had to face a line of what they call the “walk-ins” (of complete strangers) in America as I have you would appreciate that a minimum charge of £25, which does indeed look like a big annual percentage because of the few days involved, is indeed a reasonable absolute minimum. I’d like to see you lend money to people you knew nothing about for less. I think Pay Day lending is a wonderful service and I have not heard that it is compulsory. I have no interest BTW.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

        What is the point of a loan for £100 then you have to pay back £180 four weeks later. It helps no one but the lender. The borrower is far better of without the loan.

        • Leslie Singleton
          Posted November 26, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          lifelogic–One might have thought that you would understand that it should be for the prospective borrower to make up his own mind. For you to be able to ask such an amazing question it is obvious that you can have no conception that the piffling £100 as you would see it can be an amount he really needs and in a hurry–possibly in an emergency where he has absolutely no other way to raise the money. Maybe you would be in favour of expanding the Welfare system such that the borrower could turn up and ask for the money even more easily than is the case already (I have seen with my own eyes a woman boast that she had just been given a new washing machine by the State). Thank God there are some who don’t want State help.

    • Bazman
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Why are you particularly bothered about the misery brought onto as you say, the dim and desperate, by pay day loan companies, but on other such thing as low wages, poor working conditions, and bad housing it is entirely a contract between two parties? I’ll hazard a guess and say that as a landlord with property in London, many people are putting payments to these companies before rent?

      • Leslie Singleton
        Posted November 26, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

        Bazman–You ever so slightly forget that before putting money in they took money out.

  5. Peter van Leeuwen
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Surprise surprise, no compliments for your own Catherine Ashton’s leading role in securing a deal with Iran? Is that so difficult for eurosceptics? Good news is news is news too.

    Reply Glad to see the Euro machine is out in force to claim an Ashton coup. I thought it was the USA that initiated the secret talks and decided to change her attitude, not the EU.

    • Peter van Leeuwen
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Reply to reply: I’m no machine ( 🙂 ) and nobody would deny the major US role in any such matters. But a compliment for the lady who, for eurosceptics, embodies everything that’s wrong about the EU would be in order, so let me give you a second chance:

      Reply I do not agree with the EU having a Foreign Secretary and regard it as overmanning. If Catherine Ashton had not been the friendly broker between the US and Iran doubtless a Foreign Secretary from a participating country could have done the job e.g. Mr Hague. She only got involved after the US had decided to explore possibilities diplomatically and showed willingness to talk, as had the new government in Iran.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      I simply do not believe that Baroness Ashton was the driving force behind it, despite what the BBC/EU tell us. I would have thought it was the USA that was rather more likely to be driving it. Still it is good news, let us hope it works and lasts.

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        @lifelogic: I would agree. I think her role has been to guard the whole process all these years and not give up. (not even in view of the lack of support from her countrymen)

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Peter,
      There you go again with your EU propaganda(do you really expect us to believe that you are not paid for this?) just like a bad penny you turn up, whatever the subject, to worship your beloved EU.

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

        @Brian Tomkinson: You aren’t being paid for your opinions either, are you? I’m no different.

    • Peter Richmond
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I too thought it was the US that initiated the discussion in the first place. I am also under the impression that there are a few hurdles yet to overcome which could yet derail this apparent progress.

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        @Peter Richmond: Of course both the US and Iran are the major players here, but she has been leading this group of six nations that represented one side in the negotiations, and a chairperson does matter. She did persevere all this time.

    • waramess
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      I wonder why you think the deal with Iran was such good news?

      That Iran thought it was such good news should give pause for thought. That Ashton was involved should give even greater pause for thought.

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        @waramess: not every country sees it as good news, most western countries do.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      “your own Catherine Ashton”

      This just shows how little you know of us! She is not “mine”, and I doubt she is “ours”. She is an unelected quangocrat who was once a leading light in the Soviet Union’s army of supporters in the West.

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        @backofanenvelope: she may be called “Ashton of Upholland” but hse’s definitely British and chosen by the UK government, which makes her “yours”!
        All the details you chose to list are no news to me.

        Reply She is loyal to the EU and belongs to the Opposition party in the UK, not a friend of the government.

        • Peter van Leeuwen
          Posted November 25, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

          Reply to reply: why can’t your polarized country remain more unified through periods of changing governments? How can that be in the interest of the UK?

  6. Mike Stallard
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    It is the attitude!

    They do it because they can!

  7. Andyvan
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    State subsidy is your answer. Anywhere and everywhere there is state involvement it removes the incentive to look after customers first. The train companies get their money regardless of how miserably they treat their passengers so as a company they don’t care about them. The same applies to the NHS and banks. Some staff are good but the structure of the hospital or bank is rotten.

    • Bob
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Perhaps you could sue the rail operator for the stress caused.
      Sounds silly, but if three RAF women were each awarded £100,000 compensation because they couldn’t match the marching pace of men, then surely anything’s possible.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2512412/Female-RAF-recruits-100-000-compensation–march-like-men.html

      • Leslie Singleton
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        Bob–The sick joke is that if these women had been told they were not allowed to march with the men there would have been howls that such an order was against their human rights what with women being identical to men these days. Or perhaps the men should have been ordered to slow down, but then that would have been regarded as patronising. Anytime now, marching is going to be made illegal. Can you not hear what left wing (word left out ed) feminists might say–marching unnecessary in this day and age for a start?

        • Leslie Singleton
          Posted November 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

          Postscript–Anytime now we shall hear about lawsuits in similar vein from firewomen made to carry an overweight man down via a ladder in what used to be called a fireman’s lift or is it (horrors!) only men that go up ladders? Thinking about it, Silly me, I suppose apart from the ridiculous anti-sex differentiation it is against Health and Safety.

      • forthurst
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        No Bob, not the pace, the stride: the Equality and Diversity Directorate within the MfD has failed to factor in the differential influence of circulating hormones on skeletal development of different persons of gender. The way forward may be to put all persons of gender into tight skirts in order to normalise stride lengths and hip movements. Obviously there can be no going back to the bad old days when people actually believed that persons of different genders were fundamentally different for a variety of reasons and therefore treated differently.

  8. Sheila Donald
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Why do they even stipulate no smoking on the platform? What on earth has that got to do with legislation banning smoking indoors?

  9. alan jutson
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    I can hardly understand most train announcements at all, most speakers seem of poor quality, and the people talk far too fast to be understood, or is it just my hearing and age.

    As in most areas/means of travel, the Companies just simply seem to want to get you to your destination and consider it job done, which I suppose is fair enough, but travel of all kinds, bus, rail, air, does not seem to have much pleasure these days, unless you are not time constrained, then it can be viewed in a slightly different light and taken out of rush hours.

    Good to be retired.

  10. John Eustace
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t suppose being pleasant to passengers comes very high on the list of criteria for awarding franchises.
    As others have said, rail passengers have no choice. If they did they wouldn’t be there. I don’t suppose any of your trips are made for fun.
    From the staff perspective, passengers (sorry, customers…) interfere with the smooth running of their train set.

    • Horatio McSherry
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      That reminds me of one of Bob Newhart’s sketches about travelling on the trains. He was saying that the train companies just see a passenger carriage as taking out a space for another freight carriage: “They dont wantcha there and boy do they let you know it!”

  11. Bert Young
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Very good reasons to avoid travelling by rail !

  12. me
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Farmers don’t need to be nice to the cows before they milk them.

    • alan jutson
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      me

      I thought some farmers played music to them whilst they were being milked.

      It increases the yield, so investigation has found.

      Although I guess it depends on what type of music !

    • oldtimer
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      True, but the smart ones play soothing music to their herd. It helps improve the milk yields.

  13. Douglas Carter
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I suspect you already know the answer to your own question John and that ‘captive clientele’ is part of it. It’s essentially a monopoly in by another name and where people are denuded a choice* then the provider of the service will adopt – eventually – a culture of path-of-least-resistance. The customer will be treated with contempt.

    (*…and yes – many rail passengers indeed do not have a choice. Nobody in their right minds would elect to use the rail service for commuting or important travel if they absolutely did not have to.)

    I went thru’ a lengthy period of regular weekly travel between Portsmouth and Lympstone for some years and the treatment of passengers in both directions was routinely sullen, frequently extending to openly contemptuous all too often. The stations at which you might make your changes unhelpful and unwelcoming. The decades-long culture of applied indifference by the Rail Companies to those who pay their wages also hasn’t been helped by the nature that they themselves can take part in setting the terms on how they might define the standard of their own service. A train ‘ten minutes late’ is ‘late’, not ‘delayed’.

  14. Seth the pig farmer
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Why?

    Because the fare paying passenger is not the customer.

    The government is the customer.

  15. Acorn
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Remember when Cameron said he was adopting the political doctrine of economist Richard Thaler and legal scholar Cass Sunstein; promoting “libertarian paternalism” in that “it tries to influence choices in a way that will make choosers better off, as judged by themselves”. (Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness). Stuff like, if you want to renew your driving licence, before you will be allowed, you will have to declare for or against your organs being donated.

    Well, you have certainly “nudged” the economy a long way off trend growth. Victimhood is now an accepted lifestyle, at least one or two, daily, get five minutes on the “Today” programme. Punch and Judy are doing fine in our, so called, parliament. Equality and Diversity has got blanket coverage on all media platforms, shortly to become a religion. But the winner by far is Spite and Envy, at which the Brits are the world masters; ask Peter Hitchens at the Daily Mail.

    Jealousy is both reasonable and belongs to reasonable men, while envy is base and belongs to the base, for the one makes himself get good things by jealousy, while the other does not allow his neighbour to have them through envy. (Aristotle)

  16. Peter van Leeuwen
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Two weeks ago I went to a conference in Brussels where I met over a hundred British. Some of them were genuinely surprised how much easier the train journey is from London to Brussels than to Manchester. I have no personal experience with Eurostar, it probably doesn’t give announcements in four languages like in the trains from Rotterdam to Brussels or Paris. My surprise at that conference was how “distant” Europe feels for many elderly English (like further away than Canada or Australia and not relevant for Britain). The continent will still have to do some work on this English “DNA” before some referendum is called in the UK. Luckily there are many young people in Britain, every year some more.

    • Bob
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      The continent will still have to do some work on this English “DNA” before some referendum is called in the UK. Luckily there are many young people in Britain, every year some more.

      Yes Peter, we already know why Mr Cameron is delaying it, but thanks for acknowledging the Common Purpose strategy.

    • Alte Fritz
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      My argument against the EU has been based on precisely this observation. Historically, so much in these islands is different. That does not mean better or worse, just different. It extends to law, philosophy and so much else in our DNA. I think the process started in the fifth century with the gradual disintegration of Romano British society, so best of luck with ‘the Project’!

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        @Alte Fritz: Just after WWII (according to a book I just finished reading) The Netherlands was much more transatlantic in its orientation, but economic developments gradually drew it more into the continent (the EU). I think that, in spite of obvious differences, this is happening to the UK as well. I don’t see anything that different that it couldn’t be bridged.

        • Bob
          Posted November 26, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

          @PVL

          the continent (the EU)

          Was that a deliberate conflation?

    • Tom William
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Eurostar provides announcements in the languages of the countries through which it passes, which is logical.

      Perhaps your “elderly English” only spoke English or had relatives in Canada or Australia? The adjective “many” obviously ignores the coach loads of elderly English touring, in particular, France., or who take cruises around Europe.

      • Peter van Leeuwen
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        @Tom William: You obviously have a point here. I didn’t make any headcount, but it surprised me as well, that the Welsh and Scottish participants were more aware of Europe (the EU) and seemed on the whole to feel closer to it.

    • Alex Macfie
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see how it is easier to travel from London to Brussels than from London to Manchester. Let’s compare the service on the two routes.

      London to Manchester: 3tph (i.e. a train every 20 minutes) throughout the day. Typical journey time 2hr 10 min. As with all UK National Rail services, it’s a ‘walk-up, buy a ticket and hop on’ service, with no advance booking required; however, if you do choose to book in advance and fix your travel plans,you can get a one-way fare as low as £12.50. But even the walk-up fare is not that expensive outside peak times. Ticketing is fully integrated with all other National Rail services, so you can buy a through ticket from your local station in Greater London to anywhere in Greater Manchester. You are not restricted to the direct trains between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly: on a walk-up ticket you can travel on any trains on any permitted
      route between your origin and destination. There is no checking in: you just walk onto the platform and board the train. The London terminus (Euston) is logical for the destination. Announcement are in one language (English).

      London–Brussels: There are 10 trains a day on weekdays; 8 a day at weekends. In contrast to the clockface timetabling of the London–Manchester trains, they are not at regular intervals. Typical journey time of 2hr 10 min is similar to London–Manchester. However, you have to arrive at St Pancras (which is not the most logical terminus for Brussels) at least 30 minutes before the train departs, in order to go through an airport-style check-in process in order to travel on a train that is bookahead-only: you ALWAYS have to buy a ticket for travel on a specific train service. And in standard class, even for the most flexible tickets, there is a charge for changing your ticket to travel on a different train. Occasionally it is quicker to change trains en route than to travel on a direct train; however, if you do this, then you have to buy separate tickets. Ticket integration with local train operations in UK and Belgium is patchy, and until last week there was no one-stop shop where you could buy end-to-end tickets from your local station in the UK to your destination in Belgium. Announcements are in three languages (English, French, Dutch).

      So in terms of ease of travel, London–Manchester certainly wins over London–Brussels: more trains, easier boarding procedure and cheaper more flexible ticketing. The ridiculous security theatre makes train travel between the UK and mainland Europe a lot less convenient than it otherwise could be.

      • Alex Macfie
        Posted November 25, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

        BTW I apologise for double post: for some reason the post got held up in the moderation queue and I thought it might have been lost so I posted it again. Moderators: feel free to delete one of them!

    • libertarian
      Posted November 27, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Peter,

      Sorry in what way and how is the journey from London easier to Brussels than Manchester? Even aside the fact that I live next to the Eurostar terminal, and would have to go to London and change trains in order to get to Manchester there is little difference in the ease of travelling. Except the cost, as the Eurostar is extortionate.

      • Alex Macfie
        Posted November 28, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

        To be fair, he appears to have been describing the perceptions of the British conference delegates he met in Brussels, but it’s difficult to see how anyone could have this perception, as the London-Manchester train journey is much easier as I have already explained.
        Eurostar is really an airline on rails — to see this, you just need to consider the fact that it insists on calling all the stations it serves “terminals”. In rail-speak, a “terminal” (or “terminus”) is a station where services terminate. It’s just a “station” if the service stops there en route to somewhere else.

    • Robert Taggart
      Posted November 28, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Some of us ‘Blighters’ are happy not to have ‘added to our numbers’ – no future ‘innocents’ will have to suffer the indignity of being European Citizens – on our account !
      “Hey diddle-le-dee a sprogless life for me” !!

  17. BobE
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    John, during your journeys how do you get from the stations to your destinations. Oh expense claimable taxies. Oh yes, and first class travel as well!!! . Thats why I must use a car. Rail is too expensive door to door, and I can’t make the public pay.
    Bob
    Everybody is suffering pay cuts but MPs are going to get a 10k pay rise. What a shower of trough nosers.

    Replky None of my journeys were paid for by the taxpayer. I get to London stations by tube, but do sometimes use taxis at the other end, depending on where I am going to.

  18. lojolondon
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    John, that is because there is no competition. The rail service providers now have limited monopolies, so they treat you however they want to.
    I have written several emails to Virgin, National Rail, and my MP about the Virgin Rail Service, which insists on providing half the train as First Class. The obvious result is that all day long, there are four almost empty carriages with a scattering of government employees and other ‘expenses paid’ passengers, and four ‘cattle class’ coaches that are crammed beyond standing room, people crouching and sitting on the floor for the long haul (or at least as far as Milton Keynes!). I do wish that Virgin lost their rights to this line, so someone else could do a better job for normal people!

  19. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    COZ I’m the boss and you will do as I say.

  20. Bob
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    How about this then, cattle class here we come:

    Standing room only: Plan to rip the seats out of commuter trains to ease overcrowding… but tickets would only be 20% cheaper

    – Trains could replicate Ryanair and easjet in offering no-frills travel
    – Removing seats would create more room for passengers to stand
    – Plan would be cheaper than spending billions on new lines and stations
    – Institute for Economic Affairs calls for high-density ‘economy class’

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2513156/Standing-room-Plan-rip-seats-commuter-trains-ease-overcrowding–tickets-20-cheaper.html

    I despair for this country.

    • Alex Macfie
      Posted November 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t worry about this too much. It’s not government policy, but a proposal from a think-tank. And it isn’t going to happen. It’s based on a misunderstanding of the economics and experience of commuting. Many commuter trains already have high-density layouts designed to allow plenty of standing room. It would make no sense at all to herd all standing passengers onto one cheaper portion of the train so that seated passengers get more space. Would it be possible to get more passengers onto the train? I doubt it. Commuter trains generally have only one class of accommodation because they work better that way.
      The comparison with low-cost airlines is laughable. Theirs is a business model designed for irregular long-distance travel; the idea of paying extra for a seat, or to carry luggage on board, or to be the first to get on the train, just would not work in a mode of transport where the majority of travellers (at peak times) have season tickets, and are ONLY interested in using the train to get from their home to work as quickly and easily as possible.
      Incidentally, there is a rail operation in France that imitates the low-cost airline experience, with long check-in, baggage charges and using stations that are a long way from the city centres they claim to travel to. It is called Ouigo. But it is for long-distance travel.

  21. Alex Macfie
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Peter van Leeuwen: The train journey from London to Brussels is certainly NOT easier than that from London to Manchester. Let’s compare the service on the two routes.
    London to Manchester: 3tph (i.e. a train every 20 minutes) throughout the day. Typical journey time 2hr 10 min. As with all UK National Rail services, it’s a ‘walk-up, buy a ticket and hop on’ service, with no advance booking required; however, if you do choose to book in advance and fix your travel plans, you can get a one-way fare as low as £12.50. But even the walk-up fare is not that expensive outside peak times: the cheapest Off-peak walk-up fare is £38.65 single, £77.30 return. The Anytime fare is £154 one-way. Ticketing is fully integrated with all other National Rail services, so you can buy a through ticket from your local station in Greater London to anywhere in Greater Manchester. You are not restricted to the direct trains between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly: on a walk-up ticket you can travel on any trains on any permitted route between your origin and destination. There is no checking in: you just walk onto the platform and board the train. The London terminus (Euston) is logical for the destination. Announcement are in one language (English).

    London–Brussels: There are 10 trains a day on weekdays; 8 a day at weekends. In contrast to the clockface timetabling of the London–Manchester trains, they are not at regular intervals. Typical journey time of 2hr 10 min is similar to London–Manchester. However, you have to arrive at a terminus that is not the most logical one for the destination (certainly adding to the journey time) at least 30 minutes before the train departs, in order to go through an airport-style check-in process in order to travel on a train that is bookahead-only: you ALWAYS have to buy a ticket for travel on a specific train service. And in standard class, even for the most flexible tickets, there is a charge for changing your ticket to travel on a different train. Occasionally it is quicker to change trains en route than to travel on a direct train; however, if you do this, then you have to buy separate tickets. Ticket integration with local train operations in UK and Belgium is patchy, and until last week there was no one-stop shop where you could buy end-to-end tickets from your local station in the UK to your destination in Belgium. There exists a Eurostar ticket from London to “Any Belgian Station” (Eurostar then SNCB), but it assumes you change trains at Brussels, even though for some journeys it is quicker and more logical to change at Lille for your local train. The cheapest standard class one-way fare (non-exchangeable and non-refundable) is £39, while the semi-flexible one-way fare is £179 (£30 fee for change of journey plans); there is no fully flexible standard class fare. However, the cheap advance fares do seem to be easier to find on Eurostar than on UK domestic routes. The in-train environment is nicer; more comfortable seats (aligned with the windows, unlike on Virgin Trains!) and better more spacious buffet. And announcements are in three languages (English, French, Dutch).

    So in terms of ease of travel, London–Manchester certainly wins over London–Brussels: more trains, easier boarding procedure and cheaper more flexible ticketing. A major factor in inconvenience of train travel between London and mainland Europe is the ridiculous security theatre that our government insists on, but that is the way it is. But there is also the fact that Eurostar insists on trying to be an ‘airline on rails’ rather than a proper train service.

    • Peter van Leeuwen
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      @Alex Macfie: Thank you for the education, I think that London – Manchester wins in this comparison. Certainly the 30 minutes security time seems ridiculous, . . . but could this be because you’re not part of Schengen? May I contrast this with the service I know best – a train from my home village to Paris (the part Rotterdam – Paris is a high-speed train):
      I just book and print out my ticket at home (single ticket for the entire journey).
      The seat in the high-speed train has to be reserved in the ticket, so I have to board the train at a particular time. Arriving 2 minutes ahead on the platform at Rotterdam would be no problem at all, it has actually once happened to me. Comfortable seating, speed of 300km/hour and just over two and a half hours between Rotterdam and Paris (no customs, no changing of money, just as though I was traveling from London to Manchester)

      • libertarian
        Posted November 27, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        Peter,

        Its got nothing to do with Schengen, its called anti terrorist security. Have you never contemplated what a terrorist outrage could inflict on an undersea railway tunnel?

        • Alex Macfie
          Posted November 28, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

          No it’s principally about border security. The UKBA insists on doing border controls at the stations, instead of the traditional method (employed on mainland Europe before Schengen) of doing the checks on board the train. I’m not convinced of the idea that the Channel Tunnel is a special case as far as safety or anti-terrorist security are concerned. Longer rail tunnels in mainland Europe manage without this security theatre. Also the users of the Eurotunnel vehicle shuttle services don’t suffer as much security theatre as foot passengers. So it is difficult to see any point in it.

  22. behindthefrogs
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    What is also of concern are the prerecorded messages like the one regularly transmitted as trains from Wokingham approach Reading station.

    “This train is about to terminate, do not leave the train until it comes to a stand.”

    1) It leaves me concerned that the train is about to blow itself up. Surely it is the journey that is about to terminate.
    2) There is no stand on the platform and so will I be stranded on the train? Trains don’t come to a stand they come to a standstill.
    3) The train has automatic doors that will not open until the train is stationery and so why is that part of the message necessary?

    • behindthefrogs
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Of course waiting for the train to turn into stationery rather than becoming stationary would be equally interesting.

  23. David Hope
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of when I used to get a train from Leeds most days to work and heard a continual barrage of:
    “We apologise that the xxx from yyyy is delayed by approximately 10 minutes” interspersed with
    “Any left items will be destroyed by the security services”

    Not the best way to create a pleasant atmosphere

  24. Iain Gill
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Things that cheese me off about Virgin trains include the never ending announcements, and loud alarm bells. If you sit on their trains day after day it certainly starts to drive you nuts.
    Things that cheese me off about C2C trains, the silly “quiet coaches” in which everyone apart from me ignores the restriction on mobile devices. Nonsense like this that cannot be policed should be forgotten about.
    Things that cheese me off about South Western trains are the unstaffed stations, and stations with no lighting at night, accusing me of not buying a ticket when there were no staff and the machine was not working, I am convinced it’s a false economy and bringing back the old station masters would more than cover their wages in reduced vandalism and crime.
    Things that cheese me off about Cross Country trains… why oh why after all that money was spent on expensive tilting trains were they allowed to disable it to “save maintenance costs”? Which lazy regulator let that one through?
    Invaluable train lines include the Newcastle to Edinburgh run on the East Coast, its just not possible to do that journey by bus or plane or car in anywhere near the time, although they take advantage with the crazy prices.
    Trains that are run particularly well include the sleeper trains to Scotland, each and every staff member should be given an award in the new years honours list.
    Other public transport with exceptional service includes the Woolwich ferry, especially the cheerfulness and help to foot passengers, and the Isle of Wight hovercraft.

  25. Antisthenes
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    The rail system although partially privatized is in reality a monopoly and as such they have no incentive to offer a proper customer focused service. The only incentive is to run things by the rule book so as to not run foul of the regulators as it is them not customers who will decide if they stay in business or not. For regulators following rules like no smoking earn far more points than being polite, courteous and helpful to passengers.

  26. JoeSoap
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    You should get out more!
    Roads, now with added 20mph semi-concealed signs, speed cameras and herds of police people in vans out to nab the unsuspecting.
    Town centres, with road layouts and bus lanes covered with cameras to trap the unwary motorist.
    Electronic litter bin control
    Planning control with bat boxes when there are no cuckoos anymore.
    Political correctness saying women soldiers have every right to fight with the men but then pay them compensation when they injure themselves marching in time with the men.
    The railways probably have more customer awareness courses than other institutions, but then have the health and safety person threatening dire consequences to staff lest customers are left to spill hot coffee on themselves, or not warned of other perils.

    • JoeSoap
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      btw I use Swiss railways more than those in the UK, and they seem to be able to restrict themselves to just saying where trains are going, and the next station.
      The rest of the time I guess they focus on getting on time to the destination, which is a secondary consideration in the UK?

  27. Woodsy42
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Then I suggest you experience the new Sainsbury store in Newcastle under Lyme, Staffs. The ground slopes so the store is accessed from the car park by an escalator type thing going up/down one floor in a large empty foyer space. As you arrive the stern recorded female voice tells you to hold the handrail, as you approach the end of the escalator you are told in no-nonsense terms to hold your trolley and be ready to wheel it off. These authoritarian orders echo permanently around the foyer area. Orwell would be proud.

  28. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Don’t you just hate public transport.

    • Cynthia Roche
      Posted November 28, 2013 at 3:36 am | Permalink

      Yes I do hate travelling on the train which I have been doing once a fortnight
      for the last seven years.I catch the 7.22 to Hull from Kings Cross and providing
      the train is on time I then take the 10.14 train going to Bridlington getting off at
      Beverley.I return to Hull on the 16.07 and then catch the 17.10 to Kings Cross.I
      won’t bore you with matching experiences that many of you on here have “suffered”
      but yesterday I had the misfortune of forgetting my senior rail card.Anyone who has
      done this will know what I’m talking about,and 24hours later I am still incandescent
      with rage as well as being £64.00 odd out of pocket.I even obtained from the Beverley branch of my bank a copy of my bank statement showing proof of purchase of the rail card as well as having my debit card and my bus pass which has
      a photograph of my good self. All to no avail! Is there anyone amongst you with
      suitable suggestions for, at the very least,evening the score! I’m all ears.

  29. Iain Gill
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    If you are going to list stuff that unpleasant about the railways you shouldn’t forget the more ridiculous aspects of the ticketing situation. It’s not even possible to always buy a ticket between two mainline UK stations. Brentwood station cannot sell you a ticket through to some Essex stations. Euston or Kings Cross station will not sell you a ticket to a destination which requires you to take a tube to another mainline station first. And so on.

    • Alex Macfie
      Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      I’m curious about which stations in Essex you are referring to. Through tickets are available between any pair of stations on the National Rail network; maybe you mean stations on the far east of the Central Line. “London Terminals” is a special case; I know about that; however, you could always buy a ticket with the first station up the line as the origin; e.g. to get from Kings Cross to Reading, buy a ticket from Finsbury Park to Reading (at the Kings Cross NR ticket office).
      There isn’t full ticket integration between National Rail and London Underground, and never has been. However, it is better than it used to be: London Underground ticket offices can sell through tickets to National Rail destinations in Greater London (they used not to be able to), although not with Railcard discounts.

      • Iain Gill
        Posted November 26, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        I made a mistake above, I meant Brentford. At Brentford station you cannot buy a ticket to some Essex stations, I know because I travel that route regularly. I suppose its a bug in their (South West Trains) ticketing system, but I have given up trying to get them to fix it.

        I dont expect full integration between national rail and underground BUT you can buy a U1 (underground zone one) to any other station for picking up at Kings Cross or Euston the next day online, why you cannot buy exactly the same ticket on the day is beyond me.

  30. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    There is a simple answer. Railways have never been properly privatised in the sense of having to make a profit. Indeed, the army of banks, lawyers, administrators and consultants needed to make the system ‘work’ are an overhead that increases losses. If the railways drive away a few customers, the taxpayer simply picks up a bigger tab. That is why I now favour vertically integrated regional rail privately owned monopolies that get their competition – and there is plenty of it – from car, bus, air and road haulage.

    Our beloved NHS has a different method of treating its customers badly. It wastes their time. The moment that you are in a queue to see a doctor at a surgery, or to be admitted to hospital, the staff’s value of time is infinite and your’s is zero.

    Reform should be aimed at forcing them to make a profit. Ditto the zombie RBS bank. The profit motive is at the heart of capitalism, liberty and customer care.

    PS The PM is right about the Big Six energy companies. Give them more competition.

    PPS And I am right about HS2 and London airport investment – no taxpayer investment.

  31. Robert Taggart
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Oneself would the last Liebore Government !…
    Under that shower an Orwellian mindset took root – people were made to feel guilty – unless they could prove their innocence.
    Network Rail was the railways manifestation of this – and the operating companies took their cue from that.

    • Robert Taggart
      Posted November 28, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      OOOPS !… missing BLAME – three words into the first line.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page