The train cannot always take the strain

            When I went to Huddersfield on Thursday for Question Time the BBC proposed using the train. That was fine for the outward journey, but it turned out there were no trains after 10pm, about the time I needed one to get back home. It was also obvious there would be no connecting train from London to anywhere near where I live.

            I was booked on the 5pm to Wakefield. It would require a car to get from there to Huddersfield. I was sent an electronic summary of the ticket, seat reservation and confirmation of payment like an airline. It said I had to take it to a ticket office to get the physical ticket.

          On arrival at Kings Cross I queued at the temporary ticket office I found from the tube station entrance to the mainline station.  The ” savage spending cuts” meant that the station itself is undergoing a very comprehensive and expensive refurbishment and reconstruction.  When it was eventually my turn I was told the man at the ticket office window was unable to handle my request for my train ticket. He redirected me to another ticket office.

          I queued there. I was told by the BBC to transfer to the earlier train, the 4.31, and told in the electronic confirmation that the ticket they had bought was transferrable.   I asked the ticket office to issue a ticket for the earlier train. I was given a ticket, and another ticket which was a seat reservation. It was difficult to see why they needed to issue two tickets for the same journey.

          As I walked towards the train I realised I had been issued with a seat for the 5pm, not the 4.31. I went back to the ticket office, and queued again. I asked why I had not been issued with the train ticket I had requested. I was told that if you wished to change trains you had to arrive 3 hours before the train you wished to catch! I asked if there were spare seats on the 4.31. The ticket officer said he was unable to tell me! The ticket office seemed to have plenty of computers, but little ability to help customers.

          As it turned out there were plenty of spare seats. There seeemed to be plenty of scope to cut costs and raise the quality of customer service.


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  1. lifelogic
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    What an exciting life you lead! A fairly typical story of the railways. You spend more time working out the schedule and buying the tickets than actually travelling. The high speed railways proposed will save less time door to door than sensible ticketing systems would.
    Costing your time at perhaps £200 per hour, plus the BBC staff time, what did all this nonsense actually cost?

    And if your schedule changes you are in trouble again. When, rarely, I take a train in the UK in preference to the car, I nearly always regret it. That despite the poor road system and the deliberate obstruction of city centre roads by anti car timed red lights and all the other street and parking obstructions and politically correct nonsense.

    Door to door and considering stations, staff, ticketing and track, train make no sense in environmental/energy terms either. Only a few commuter routes and intercity journeys make much sense by train.

    Thank goodness for Dr Beeching a sensible physicist and engineer who saved the country a fortune. Why do the BBC hate him so, almost as much as Thatcher? Perhaps they live in the imaginary world of John Betjeman.

    And why are are children taught such nonsense about the benefits of bikes and public transport and wind turbines and PV cells. Rather than the true physics and actual costs and efficiencies of them all. Indoctrinate them when young and you skew the reality to lefty BBC view for generations.

    • lifelogic
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Reported today I see Prince Charles taxpayer provided income rose 17.9 percent from £1.66 million in 2009-10 to £1.96 million in the past year. Also travelling 34,000 miles to and from official engagements and spending on travel by air and rail jumped 56 percent in 2010-11 to £1.08 million.

      I do not mind any of this much, but could he please stop lecturing the rest of us on green issues, our use of resources and the “proven” a.g.w. science (and while he promotes the dis-proven science of quack medicine on the side). Has he some split personality or something going on?

      • lifelogic
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        I assume he thinks we are all doing our bit, like him, for the environment if we travel less than 34,000 (work only) miles and spend less than £1M on it per year.

    • lifelogic
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      In PM questions Cast Iron Dave described the larger PV electric schemes as an abuse of the system. But the smaller domestic roof ones (now heavily pushed) are even less efficient and even more pointless. Why is one an abuse while the other even sillier and uglier ones are not?

      Perhaps he could clarify?

      • BobE
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

        Domestic roof systems give at best 2kw and more usually 1kw.
        Installation costs are £15k. You might recover that after 15 years. By then you would need to replace the entire array.
        During the recent heat wave the system shut down. It can’t work above 25deg C?
        Its not ready for domestic use yet. Its a bit mad to install it at this stage.
        Beware of salesmen selling this duff idea.

        • lifelogic
          Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

          Indeed and doubtless due to the working at heights directive it will be very costly to maintain and clean the leaves and moss of each year. And roof repairs will be harder to do.

          Forget it do not get conned by the government and its daft ideas even if it is sold to you as “free” energy read the small print and do the sums.

  2. Boudicca
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    An everyday story of public services in the UK, of which the rail network is still one.

    Instead of wasting billions on HS2, the Government should be investing in the basic services which most people want to use. But that doesn’t fit with the EU’s TEN-T, so Cameron will do as he’s told and waste the money on their totem HS2 instead.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      I was fascinated yesterday on Radio 4 with two experts talking about the puffer to Manchester. It runs through some of the most exquisite countryside in the whole wide world. It has, therefore, quite rightly, been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty (AOB).
      Somehow, when this was being discussed as an AOB, it sort of turned into Any Other Business…….
      And that was how it could so easily be dismissed as an argument.

  3. Martyn
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    The ticketing systems are a nightmare. My wife and I decided to go to London and re-booked tickets on line. Then I had to go to a machine at Reading station and the notice said it would print the ticket and a receipt. After waiting about 30 seconds the machine every so slowly printed 2 items, by which time the train was soon to deppart.
    I took the 2 bits of paper and rushed for the train, my wife having earlier got a ticket at a different machine. When the ticket monitoring bod came along the train I proferred both bits of paper to be told that they neither was a ticket, but 2 receipts – 1 mine and 1 someone elses. I augued that I had paid for a ticket and wasn’t going to pay again. Threatened by me being aressted and despite my objections my wife paid again for another ticket. The moral of this story is never ever trust a BR ticket machine or the people in the ticket offices….

    • APL
      Posted June 30, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Martyn: “After waiting about 30 seconds the machine every so slowly printed 2 items, by which time the train was soon to deppart.”

      Snap! Something very simiilar happened to me a while ago.

      In my case I had my internet booking slip with me and could show it to the ticket inspector, he was pretty good about it.

  4. Cliff. Wokingham.
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Last night my wife and I thought we would like to go to the “South Coast Proms” event in Portsmouth this Friday.
    I looked at their site for information and then went onto the national railway enquiries site to find out about rail tickets. Getting there was no problem however, getting back was a different story. In order to return to Wokingham that same evening, the last train was effectively 22-13 arriving back here at a little after midnight. The fireworks don’t start until ten to ten and to get back to the station for 22-13 from Whale Island (the venue) in Portsmouth was a bit of a tall order. The tickets would cost twenty-two pounds each. I tried to book a hotel for the night; all were fully booked. I looked at hiring a car, Friday from 09-00 until the same time on Monday morning, only forty-two pounds!! No wonder people still use their car rather than take the train…..Still I suppose that a higher tax take for the government is more attractive for them, with all that fuel duty then VAT on top of that tax, rather than giving the people incentives to use the train.

  5. Mike Stallard
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I am spending my retirement making a lot of trains. I love them. I have a complete set of Polish trains and am currently making a GER quad with the 0-6-0 at the front in LNER livery. Being poor, I model in cardboard usually from excellent Polish designers (Modelik).
    And that is where trains ought to stay. In the past. As people like me die off, trains will be relegated to coach and horses status. No more plumes of smoke. No more excellent stations. That’s it. Just for holidays and hobby.

    Out of date technology.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      This is why projects like HS2 make me smile. Here we are eleven years into the 21st century and we are planning to build a train set that is a variant of Stephenson’s Rocket!

      • peter soakell
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        Transfer electricity from one location to any other without wires.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

      I see.

      That’s why China is embarking on a massive rail building programme then.

      • BobE
        Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Big countries can make use of rail. Britain is too small to make it effective

      • lifelogic
        Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Different size country and different state of development might make sense in China not in the UK usually.

        • Electro-Kevin
          Posted July 1, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          Bob and Lifelogic – Railways. You’re right. They’d never catch on here in Britain.

          Stupid idea.

    • APL
      Posted June 30, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Mike Stallard: “Out of date technology.”

      Perhaps, but look at these guys.

      With the indulgence of our host – ( if you weren’t already aware of them) – I’ll post this URL.

  6. alan jutson
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    You mean you travelled on an earlier train with the wrong ticket, wonder you did not get fined !.

    Just out of interest, was the ticket checked on the train ?.

    Makes you wonder how they know the train is full if they do not kow how many seats they have got booked. There again perhaps they do not care if you get a seat or not, many have to stand every day on the way to work, my daughter included on some days.

    Add the time and cost of getting to Kings Cross, from Wakefield to your location, an overnight stay, and reverse the proceedure the next morning (having lost a mornings work) and you can see why people use a car for anything other than a very long drive.

  7. Pete
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I can sympathise with you.
    I live in Hertfordshire and work in North London, commuting via Kings Cross every day. In my opinion, the staff at Kings Cross (both Mainline and Underground) are the biggest bunch of incompetent jobsworths available. Their mission is to obstruct passengers in any and all ways possible.

  8. Javelin
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    The computer says “no”

  9. Richard1
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    A typical consumer experience at the hands of a monopoly provider. Why is there so little resistance from Conservative MPs to HS2? It seems the Govt has made no case at all for this £33bn increase in national debt, to create another railway in which the public will periodically be held to ransom by the unions. All thats happening is they are attacking those who criticise it as Nimbys. Its not in my back yard, but I dont want to see my taxes spent without much better evidence and argument for the benefits.

    • lifelogic
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      “A typical consumer experience at the hands of a monopoly provider”

      Indeed very bad service and often even an early death is also available at:

      HMRC, Passport Office, BORDER AGENCY, Post Office, Many Schools, the NHS, the police, rubbish collection, the court system, state housing, water, sewage and countless other similar monopolies.

      • peter soakell
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

        Do not forget ‘parliament’

        • lifelogic
          Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

          and the EU, local government, the DVLA ………………………….

  10. Geoff not Hoon
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Mr.Redwood, your patience is to be greatly admired for putting up with such nonsense. One has to wonder 1)how did Britain get like this, it isnt actually just ‘the trains’ is it:2) is anyone really doing anything about it? 3)if we could zoom forward ten years would things be better, the same or worse? Read the PLC accounts of First Group, Stagecoach, Aviva etc. and a person from another planet would believe we have nirvana in travel in the UK when of course reality is totally the opposite.

  11. Acorn
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    OK JR we give in. “I was told that if you wished to change trains you had to arrive 3 hours before the train you wished to catch!”. That was a joke, yeah? Did you forget to post the punch line; there has to be one? Which train did you actually catch?

    Reply: NO, I was told I needed to be there 3 hours in advance to change trains. I caught the earlier one, as requested, and the ticket was accepted as valid. I still had the seat reservation for the later train.

  12. Martin
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I’m glad you have the knack of finding the quiet trains.

    I suspect that your real problem was that some person at the BBC (or perhaps their corporate travel agents) dumped a fiddly last minute change which involved paperwork on you. (A pet hate of mine when traveling on business. The travel office says change XYZ, the clerk at the railway or airport says sorry can only do WXY.)

    Re Kings Cross rebuilding – blame over the top conservation.

  13. Javelin
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Sorry to keep bringing this back to Greece – but there was a fire sale of Greek assets in Mayfair yesterday – including alll the airports, ports, some railways, motorways, sewage works, energy companies, casinos and the lottery plus more. They met with cold shoulders from the UK private equity buyers – for the very reason you found. Strong unions and a culture of poor services. At the best of times people do not want to invest in Greece. Greece need to sell these assets and with no buyers – except from the BRIC countries – who have money to spare – nobody wants to sink money into Greece. Except politicians using tax payers money to save egos and promises.

    • Winston Smith
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      It was reported at the weekend that the Greek Railways income from fares is £80m. Their staff costs alone are £400m.

    • APL
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      Javelin: “Greece need to sell these assets and with no buyers – [snip] – nobody wants to sink money into Greece.”

      Greece like the UK government needs to cut spending. Perhaps in the case of Greece they have some room to increase the tax take too. But they really should concentrate on cutting spending.

  14. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    After all that hassle and with no trains after 10pm, just how did you return home?

    Reply: That was another story. The BBC provided a taxi to take Mr Baker and myself back to London by car – a car which then returned with no passangers to Yorkshire. I then picked up my own car and drove home.

    • lifelogic
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      So energy use and inconvenience far more than just going by car as usual.

  15. JimF
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Welcome to the real world, Mr Redwood.

    This is precisely what other politicians and senior civil servants should be doing. What is the point in trying to organise the affairs of ordinary people if you’re being chauffered around in people-proof limos?

    Our local train service from that small country station, Oxford was running 45 minutes late consecutively, for most of the day recently. By 3pm the train company said to hell with it, let’s cancel a train and call the next one 15 minutes early.

  16. Elliot Kane
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I can see why you’d need to arrive three hours early if they intend to be that incompetent every time! Good grief!

  17. Caterpillar
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink


    I am glad your reserved ticket produced a seat, this is usually but not always the case in first class. In cattle the reserved seat does not actually guarantee you a seat, fine if there is room for the incorrectly positioned passenger to move, otherwise not. I have been on trainS, which have been full (usually due to being delayed and those arriving for scheduled later trains angaing to boad), have had to stand, point out my reservation to the ‘helpful’ staff and be told that a reservation does not guarantee a seat. A very intriguing definition of reservation. (But at least whne a train is this full there is no room for teenagers to run about, and throw things at other passengers).

    I do hope that when HS2 eventaully happens it sets a standard for others to live upto. But this seems to be such a slow speed project hopefully there will be earlier improvement.

    (BTW – the mains story remains theat when Sir MK and AP speak the pound goes down. Whn will the Chancellor take back control and put interest rates upto a minimum of 3%. The continued ignoring of remit has already damaged the country it needs to be stopped immediately – not left until after the HS2.)

    • Caterpillar
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Well I’ll stay off the train story a little longer – Sterling is continuing to die today – is no one going to pay a visit to the Chancellor?

  18. Anthony Harrison
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, it seems you travel by train infrequently: your story does not surprise hardened rail travellers.
    I am not wholly critical of the railway companies and their employees, since they inherited a large, very long established network, set in its ways, and run down in the way typical of nationalised industries and the former Warsaw Pact countries… Many of them really are trying hard, and I find customer service often quite good when in former times it was non-existent. But their systems are frequently hopeless, as you discovered. The timetables and ticketing systems especially are byzantine and infuriating.
    One is aware that the impressive, wholly superior SNCF’s service comes at a huge price: I believe it is massively indebted, and they can run those wonderful TGV lines across France only because their dirigiste governments do more or less as they like – plus they have more space to play with.
    I still wish we could have a rail system approaching the efficiency, speed and convenience of the French railways.
    One journey from a few years back stands out: my train to London was delayed – leaves on the line or something – and I resigned myself to missing the Eurostar. It turned out that all Eurostars were delayed anyway, heavy rain across the Channel having caused floods around the Tunnel. I worried about having missed my TGV connection at Lille – all TGV trains in NW France had been similarly delayed. No problem – SNCF set up an emergency booking office on the platform, and along with hundreds of others I was instantly transferred to a later train for Avignon, first class too. They made it seem easy. I just doubt that our own railway system would have taken such disruption in its stride.
    Unlike some I still think there’s a continuing need for a rail system, preferably provided by private enterprise though I’m happy for the State to oversee the infrastructure and planning. Clearly, we’re not there yet.

  19. Winston Smith
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Did you ask the BBC why they do not select local guests for the QT panel? Why not choose a local Yorkshire Conservative MP, such as David Davis? Are there no local celebrities in the Yorkshire or even the North to volunteer their political wisdom? Fern Britton lives in Bucks. David Mitchell lives in North London. Norman Baker is MP for Lewes. The only local guest on the panel was, the Labour MP for Leeds West. Well, there’s a surprise. She probably had half of her activists in the audience. Did you ask the BBC why the show is almost, always in Labour constituencies? Perhaps, you can ask the BBC why they ask leading questions, such as your attitudes towards the EU, to audience applicants? They then ask you more questions by telephone to decipher your suitability for their audience.

    Conservatives will never progress whilst the State broadcaster, controlling more than half of all broadcasting, is institutionally left-wing, anti-Tory and Labour friendly. Unfortunately, Cameron has no stomach for a fight and has cowardly yielded to the all powerful, yet unrepresentative, left-establishment.

    • lifelogic
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Indeed Cast Iron has done worse he has put Chris Patton at the BBC trust just to make sure it stays Lefty, Pro EU, pro Quack Greenery and Pro ever more regulation and a bigger state.

    • MickC
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, I don’t understand why anyone watches the programme, the bias is so blatant and the discussion a mere chance for party politicals. There is never a proper debate. Having said which, I haven’t seen it for over a year, it may have changed!

      • A.Sedgwick
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

        I agree, gave up watching it long ago.

        • APL
          Posted July 1, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

          One one occasion when I had nothing better to do, I happened to tune into QT. The topic I stumbled upon was the rash of mobile phone thefts and related assaults on the person.

          The solution suggested by one of the panelists .. ‘ the phone companies should make mobile phones less portable.’

      • lifelogic
        Posted June 30, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

        Indeed the bias is absurd and so are many of the BBC type guests – failed pop stars, actors or non funny comedians are favourites mixed with a labour, liberal, union leader (state sector often) and a “Tory” politician usually the Tory to is from the left as 80% seem to be nowadays.

        The panels are perhaps 90% in favour of the EU agenda when the public is probably the opposite in proportion. With a similar mismatch on immigration and the mad green proven agenda. With David Dimbleby there just to make sure the line does not stray too much from BBC think. An audience too of mainly BBC “thinkers” with a suitable mix of races and religions just to show just how “inclusive” the BBC really is to all views but not the sensible ones.

    • davidb
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      On the recent Scottish edition of QT the audience were remarkably hostile to Alex Salmond, considering his party recently won an absolute majority at Holyrood and polled almost half the votes cast. I find it hard to believe that a random audience would not approximately mirror the voting pattern of the electorate. Is it not time some inquiry were launched into the blatant bias of the BBC?

  20. alexmews
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    hi john

    a fairly typical story. where i live there was a long debate about including our local station into london zone 5 (from 6) as that was equivalent to other local stations. the debate seemed won when london transport decided to revisit ticketingt instead and dropped the zones 1-5 travel card forcing purchase of zones 1-6. 25% fare rise. nice.

    i cycle when i can on the commute now. much better. train for me is really only eurostar which – conmpared to flying – is the only way to go to Paris.

    you remarked in your piece how austerity is not yet showing in the extensive building works @ kings X. a bit unfair as you cannot just suspend those sort of big capital projects once started. but on the point of austerity – is there any evidence over the past year that the public service wage bill is actually coming down? a reduction in actual public sector FTE heads yet? a reduction even in the rate of growth? this unfortunately is where the austerity needs to happen in my view as it is likely the single largest line item in any departrmental budget.

  21. English Pensioner
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    And if you travel by car you can get two, or even four, for the price of one! I’m sure our supermarkets would approve.
    Incidentally, you highlight the argument against the BBC moving their current affairs programmes from London to Manchester; How many busy people, such as MPs and particularly ministers, who work in London will be prepared to spend the time required to appear on a TV debate staged in Manchester?

    • Andrew Smith
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      At least those who do travel will fill some seats on the H2S! At license payers expense.

  22. Bob
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    The culture hasn’t changed since the years under nationalisation.
    BT is very much the same, it will take a long time to changed attitudes, especially when there is effectively no competition.

    • rose
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      And people say the same thing about private hospitals: though they may be cleaner and more comfortable, the nurses and doctors have taken their bad manners with them from the NHS.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      Plenty of competition. Road and air.

      • Bob
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

        I wonder what the time & cost would have been if John had decided to fly to Huddersfield?
        The motorist pays huge amounts of tax & duty which is used to subsidise the railways (among other things), and that’s not how competition is supposed to work, is it?

        • Electro-Kevin
          Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

          I’m glad you included ‘among other things’ the greater part in fact.

          Of all the things that road tax goes towards at least the driver benefits directly from subsidising rail transport as it helps to keep the road ahead of him far clearer than it would otherwise be.

          • Electro-Kevin
            Posted July 1, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

            And it reduces wear and tear on roads too.

    • Yudansha
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

      With various modal options there is far more competition now than when the rail industry was at its zenith in the Victorian era.

      The problems of today seem to be three-fold :

      – Manipulation of state subsidies to the benefit of shareholders

      – Almost wilfull restriction of peak availability, possibly in order to maximise ticket prices

      – Avoidance of late service provision as our host’s experience attests.

  23. forthurst
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that if the BBC love the railways so much they should learn how they operate. I would have thought that a tcket would relate to a period but a reservation would relate to a journey; if reservations cannnot be made less than three hours before a journey, the BBC should have known that and advised JR accordngly. It might be inferred that the BBC scheduled the journey based upon AA calculations and then were informed by the chauffeuring company that the BBC’s travel schedule was unrealistic or contained insufficient contingency.

    As to the inefficiencies of the railways, sadly, these have to be lain at the door of John Major (0-2 ‘O’ levels) whose catastrophically incompetent privatisation created the actualised potential for billions of pounds of waste and untold passenger misery.

    • lifelogic
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      I understand the EU rules were a good part of this absurd rail/track arrangement not that I would defend ERM major on anything.

      How does someone so self evidently so dim rise so high – mind you people like double first Denis Healey are rarely much better or more in touch.

      • forthurst
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

        Actually, I did know that, lifelogic, but I never accepted that the European rules should apply to the UK on the simple basis that railways were not, at that time, amphibious.

      • sjb
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

        The “absurd rail/track arrangement” was proposed by an Adam Smith Institute report by Kenneth Irvine entitled The Right Lines.

        I think John Major originally favoured a return to a geographical carve-up. Perhaps you remember GWR, LMS, LNER & Southern Railway?

        Reply: I was on the Ministerial working party that reported to John Major on the railways. I argued for regional companies in charge of track and trains, and lost. John Major did not back my view.

        • lifelogic
          Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

          To reply: What was the EU input?
          Also: Why oh why do they not do the many sensible and obvious things you suggest they could have saved multi-billions on the EMU farce, train privatisation, the bank crash, Brown’s boom and bust, the pigs rescue and the bank rescues to name but five.

    • forthurst
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Incidentally, why was it that the BBC’s apparatchik kept interupting JR during the programme? None of the other panellists were so treated. The BBC knows that their world view involves pushing water up hill: it is illogical, deceitful and treasonous and can be demolished with ease by an intelligent proponent of conservative libertarian values, hence the need to disrupt a sustained coherent expostion from reaching over past rent-a-mob studio audience to that at home.

      • lifelogic
        Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink


  24. norman
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    So the long and the short of it is that it would been cheaper, greener (considering the return journey), and more convenient if a car had been used, either shared or alone. Anyone who has gone through this experience (thankfully I live miles from the nearest train station) next time will opt for the car.

    Read an article in The Telegraph yesterday (or Monday) that had an interview with a Chinese railway engineer, going on about the new 180mph Shanghai to Beijing high speed rail – completed in under 3 years, cost I can’t remember but it was way, way less than £33bn for a far longer stretch of track (of course, wages and land there cheaper) and running efficiently and on time since.

    What’s the odds of the UK HS2 taking at least twice as long and costing twice as much as planned (google Edinburgh tram system if you want a glimpse of the future)? You’d be a reckless bookie to bet against it!

    The punch line of the article was the Chinese engineer recommending that Britain should outsource the building and running of any high speed railways we plan on building to China and I tend to agree!

  25. Bernard Otway
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    My wife and I went up to Sheffield for a meeting 4 weeks ago,we live in Epsom left home at
    6am went M25 then M1 drove at a reasonable speed Never over 70mph and legal .Arrived in Sheffield at 9.30, meeting lasted 150 minutes left at noon, arrived back home at 4.15pm for
    a cup of tea, Cost of petrol there and back £50 for two people Door to Door,no taxis ,buses
    waiting or anything.I never go by anything other than car ,if I can’t I DONT GO.In South Africa where I lived 30 years I used to do Durban to Cape Town 1756 KMS in 14 hours leave in the early morning arrive at about 8.30 pm. This country needs a kick up the backside.

    • BobE
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

      Absoloutly. The private car is the most effecient and effective transport system.
      We need to move the fuel source to hydrogen which is easy and create underground parking areas.
      Train in the UK should be removed and the track area converted to motorways.
      Every new business building should provide underground parking.

  26. lojolondon
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    John, I appreciate the fact you seem to be a very honest person. I use the railway as little as possible – about once a week into London – but your accurate reflection of the experience makes me wonder how our MP’s reconcile such experiences with their decision to vote £33Bn (plus the rest!!) for HS2! Or, as I suspect, do they vote as they are told to, not as they feel is right?

    • BobE
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

      HS2 is a vanity project. Because it stops so far from Birmingham center and London center then it will save no real time on a door to door trip. Imagine if it was redisigned to go from Brum to Paris, non stop. But there is no imagination for this. Its just a noisy project to pretend to be green and nothing more. Chances are it will vanish(hopefully). Cars are best for 3 hour trips, planes or coaches are best for longer ones. Expand the motorway system to get people moving.

    • APL
      Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      lojolondon: “Or, as I suspect, do they vote as they are told to, not as they feel is right?”

      And thus is democracy subverted.

  27. Richard
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    My local line runs Birmingham to Coventry and then onto London and whilst the service is improving there are still problems.
    One that annoys me is when the train sometimes fails to stop at my local station because it is running late and the Regulator only counts lateness as being the time of arrival recorded at its final destination.
    The train company seem to have worked out that if they leave passengers standing at minor stations along the route they can make up time and record the train as arriving on time and avoid the Regulators fines!
    Another problem is that our local station’s ticket office is only open limited hours and if you need to travel when it is closed you are supposed to use a machine which for a pound provides you with a “permit to travel” which you are supposed to transfer for a proper ticket at the ticket office at your destination, assuming that one is open.
    Often this machine is out of order and if there is a ticket inspector on the train you can be given a fine for travelling without ticket or a permit.
    And dont get me started on our local buses, where not having a bus pass or even worse, not offering the exact money and not knowing what the correct fare should be is looked on as being the crime of the century by the driver.

  28. Yudansha
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I despair. The cost and the complexity of ticketing can be truly embarassing. The paucity of late trains in fairly well populated areas and business centres is concerning. Some services are withdrawn because of night time violence and vandalism, others purely for business reasons. Some return travel options seem to be deliberately awkward, as though to discourage usage.

    I can’t understand why more carriages cannot be found on popular services. The demand is there for sure. Passengers are left behind at stations with carriages so packed that conductors can’t inspect or sell tickets.

    Whatever the upward effect of demand on limited space on trains has on profit margins, a huge amount of business is being lost because of stupidly short trains with inadequate baggage provision. I fail to see how extra carriages can be so prohibitively expensive to provide.

    The passenger often comes a poor fourth out of present arrangements. (unless they’ve managed to book ahead to get a good deal – especially if they manage to get a seat !)

    Sorry to labour the point – overcrowding in our country is also a big factor in making it increasingly difficult to get about but is creating a boom time for rip off merchants in every sector.

  29. Richard Powell
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I travelled from London to Glasgow for a funeral in April. I booked my tickets on line about four days before I travelled. There was no problem in printing the tickets out at the station. I left from Euston at 0830, arriving about 1300: I took the train back around 1850, arriving Euston at 2330. The trains could not have been better timed. Comfortable journey: I got a lot of reading done, and enjoyed some marvellous scenery. The total cost was £84. Any other mode of transport would have been more expensive and less convenient.

  30. Robin
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    You had an “interesting” time at the hands of the railway company and you appear to have taken it in good spirit. Well done.
    Please excuse cynical old me when I say your story is typical of everyday life for people like me and my family. Nothing any longer works for the responsible/law abiding citizens of this country.
    My wife and I gave up watching Question Time years ago. How on earth does the bbc get away with such dreadful and leftist behaviour? It is a national disgrace.

  31. tsubaki
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    It is perhaps worth mentioning that there is none of this messing about with tickets on the Chiltern Railways service, and there wasnt any on the (subsidy-free) much missed Wrexham & Shropshire & Marylebone Railway either.

    If you wanted to travel on WSMR (and I believe this still applies on Chiltern), you booked your ticket online or over the phone, the ticket was then either emailed to you (so you could print it off), or best of all was sent as a text to your mobile. If there was a problem with it, you rang their customer care people in Shrewsbury and they fixed it. Even on the odd occasion when things went wrong on the actual service there were no attempts to fob people off, full refunds and goodwill from the staff.

  32. Iain Gill
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    did you notice all the diesel train sets running on the east coast main line?

    all that money poured into electrification of the line and the managers vote with their wallets and put their money into diesel trains

    at least then they can keep a partial service going when the overhead lines have problems as seems ever more common

    i like the way grand central trains do it, you can pay on board, that way if there aint no seats you can decide to walk away without paying

  33. Caterpillar
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Just one other capacity comment (to pass to Mr Hammond?) – what is the cost for the required bridge alterations to bring in doubledecker trains on the lines at capacity?

    Also, they maybe slow, but the night time freight trains are very long, I realise for passengers there would be platform access and line blocking issues for such long trains in the day – but what nightly sleeper options exist – are there any models hidden away?

    Oh yeh, and can public transport go multimodal – we are only freight?

  34. Captain Crunch
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood – you did get the earlier train which the staff helped you get.

    What you had to get 3 hours in advance was a seat reservation. Looks like you were trying to get a seat reservation about ten minutes before your train departed.Did you really want someone to print a reservation and run and put in on your seat?

    Reply: At the time of my request the train was not available for boarding. I did think they could have told me how full or empty they expected the train to be – as on an airline. They presumably place the seat reservations on after the train has arrived at the terminus but before allowing us to board. I asked before this would have been done.

  35. Allan D
    Posted July 2, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Having been a very rare train traveller I only became au fait with the complicationsof train travel from lasy year to the beginning of this when I had to travel back and forth to Nottingham from St Pancras after my mother first went into hospital, then into a nursing home and finally when I had to arrange and attend her funeral.

    I think what the BBC appear to have done is booked the seat themselves online using a corporate credit or debit card and then sent you the receipt with the transaction code for you to collect the ticket. Since you had no access to their card you were unable to use a ticket machine to collect it, of which there are a great abundance at King’s Cross and perforce you had to queue at a ticket office, which are quite limited (at least those which are manned) as you discovered.

    What I suggest you do in future is to ask the BBC if you can book the train ticket yourself and they can reimburse you later. Use a discount booking firm such as or crosscountry (I think the latter does not impose a booking fee). This will not only save the licence-payer a great deal of money in ferrying you around the country to the BBC’s peripatetic broadcasts (much as we appreciate your rational common sense ) but it would enable you to choose the time, route and class of travel you find most appropriate.

    You can arrange to collect your tickets from your local station trather than having to go to King’s Cross to collect them even if your journey doesn’t begin there. After paying online for your tickets you will be sent an email with a code similar to the one you received from the BBC. Take it to your point of collection with the credit or debit card you bought the tickets with and, bypassing the ticket office, collect your tickets at a ticket machine by swiping your card (as a means of identification) and typing in the transaction code.

    This will not only be considerably cheaper but less time-consuming. The only flaw in this project may be the difficuty the bloated BBC bureaucracy has with sending you a cash refund for discounted online tickets rather sending you the actual tickets (or at least the receipt for them) expensively purchased directly at the full price. Alternatively you could simply ask them to make the collection point your local station rather than King’s Cross or whatever the point of departure is. I hope this is of some use.

    • alan jutson
      Posted July 3, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      Allan D

      What ever happened to turning up at a station on the day you want to travel and buying a ticket, knowing that the price is the price.

      Purchase a ticket in advance, and you may be ill and not able to travel.
      Same as going to a meeting, which after tickets have been purchased I advance, has to be cancelled the day before, due to unforseen circumstances.

      We really have made life so complicated in so many ways, we have now really have lost the plot.

  36. uanime5
    Posted July 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Does this mean the Government is actually going to tackle the poor state of our railways that has been common knowledge to everyone who has to use them?

  • 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.

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