Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Third World Britain

At the weekend my father, who is 92, decided to travel to Liverpool for a school reunion. Liverpool is not much more than 200 miles from where we live. In some large countries people travel that distance for pre-dinner drinks with friends. His mistake was to make the journey by train.
The outward journey took 6 hours. But that was fast compared to the return journey which took about 11 hours. The reasons included being given incorrect details when he booked, engineering work which meant trains were replaced by buses and being put on the wrong train by a rail worker and finding himself en route to Southampton.
Needless to say, nobody told him when he booked that trains would be replaced by buses. At Liverpool he was told he would have to take a 3 hour bus journey to Birmingham. When he protested, they sent him instead by train to South Wales, followed by a circuitous route with many changes back towards our corner of middle England.
On this marathon 11 hour return trip he was unable to buy any food. He did buy one small mug of tea for 98 pence which was undrinkable.
On the day of the VE celebrations he found himself sitting on a God-forsaken rural railway station for an hour and asked a rail worker how it was that during the war hundreds of thousands of troops were efficiently moved around the country by train but in 2005 a 200 mile journey was taking 11 hours.

Whilst I don't want to deter any overseas readers from visiting our country, it's only fair to tell you that my father's experience was not unusual and that our rail fares are on average three times higher than those of our European neighbours.
And do you get a partial refund if you buy an expensive rail ticket and are put on a bus instead? Don't be silly! Would you get a refund if you booked a hire car and were given a bicycle? Er.....yes, I suppose you would. Bad example.
You see, the railway company's contract is only to take you to your destination and at no pre-determined timescale. So they can put you in a pony and trap, a barouche or, if you've a got a first class ticket, a sedan chair carried by a team of Iranian asylum seekers. In no case will you have any cause for complaint. It's up to you whether you rejoice in the glories of a privatised transport system in the fourth biggest economy in the world or kick yourself for believing all that guff on the British Tourist Authority website.


At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Alan said...

Oooh, don't get me started. The amount of vitriol stored up in me regarding UK public transport would raise the level of the oceans by several inches. I take issue at the title of your post though. I have travelled the world by public transport and can confirm that most third world country have vastly more efficient and reliable public transport systems than the UK.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I'm sure you're right. It was a lazy title and I apologise to third world countries.
I think we're now meant to say 'Developing World', as though we'd stopped developing and reached perfection.


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