Thursday, 5 January 2012

A small complaint about trains......

So, I park my car on the free car-park outside Blackburn Station to catch the train. Although you have to get there early (about 7:30am), as if it's full, the only other spaces are for the connected Vue Cinema, which are 4-hour maximum stays. It's never full (even on Orange Wednesdays) but the traffic wombles are happy to write out a ticket and pop it on the windscreen at every opportunity.

Anyway, the next leg is to buy a ticket. This is easy enough. Take out the required price (£5.40) for a return journey (Blackburn to Preston and back) and hand it to the bloke behind the glass through the slidey metal thingy. Sometimes you don't have the cash, so you have to pay by card. Sometimes the card machine won't work properly, so you have to do the whole 'sign a receipt' deal that was obsolete about 5years ago.
That's IF there isn't a long queue to the ticket office. The train (at this point) will decide whether to be on-time (when you're being forced to be late by the inept ticket-office guys, who sometimes just pull a shutter down and ignore us) or be delayed, causing us to freeze on the platform and be late further down the line.

The train has come on time, but I'm unable to buy a ticket. So I get on the train with the full intention of paying. When the ticket bloke comes out from the front cab, he wobbles his way skilfully down the aisle checking tickets. He threatens me with police arrest for not buying a ticket at the platform (but inevitably let's me off because he can't be arsed with the paperwork). The way to deal with people who travel for free is simple: Give ticket-guys (and citizens on the train) power of arrest in such a situation. Simple as that. No-nonsense. Example: 

Railway companies are now mostly owned by ludicrously-high-profit-chasing (and ludicrously-high-profit making) companies who still expect the state to pay for any of it's own shortfalls with tax revenues. We (the public) barely notice anymore that the expensive and unprofitable maintenance of a crumbling infrastructure is funded by the state; whereas the lucrative business of charging someone a 3-figure sum (for having the temerity to wait until the day of travel to decide where to go) is done by sharkish private companies. It's like an airline over-filling a plane with passengers and then asking the Government to supply extra air!
The issue of far-too-high pricing is exacerbated by the fact that if you break up a journey into smaller journeys by buying (for example) a ticket from Manchester to Wolverhampton, then Wolverhampton to London (rather than directly from Manchester to London), it's much cheaper! Savings of around £30 can be made for exactly the same journey! So why is the smaller price not immediately offered as the total price? It's extortionate and it's wrong.

Now for the issue of the carriages themselves. The carriages on trains on journeys that travel about 50miles or more are generally quite nice. But the local-journey carriages are knackered! They're like buses that have lost their wheels and been forced to go on the rails (or indeed off them at times) and have let themselves go. Graffiti all over the so-called 'graffiti-proof' glass. Sliding toilet doors that slide open (whether locked or not) while you're having a satisfying dump. Food and drink stains all over the floors and knife-slashed seats. Occasionally there'll be spit marks too (at least I HOPE it's spit, rather than my suspicion that there have been some randy homeless people on the last train of each day).

It's even more annoying that the private companies that own railway networks (which are actually local monopolies) pretend that they're a free option. Instead of employing a PR firm to come up with a catchy slogan enticing us to travel with them, why not spend that money on CLEANING THE CARRIAGES??? Honestly we don't care about your firm; it's not like we can pick a different train firm to travel with when it comes to local journeys! A slogan on a paper cup of coffee will not lead me to associate the excellence of your coffee with the speed or efficiency at which you plan to take me from Blackburn to Preston. In any case, the reason I travel to Preston from Blackburn is to go to University. It has nothing to do with either the excellence of your coffee, nor how persuasive your slogan is. As if having a snappier slogan or better coffee would cause me to abandon my Psychology course to randomly travel on a Virgin train to Edinburgh!

Now for over-crowding. It's not THAT bad in my opinion. There are usually enough seats for everyone, with standing space too. The only complaint I would have is that all the standing space is by that little door where the ticket-guy comes out; where the luggage rack and bike-space is. That means that anyone standing is likely to have a door-handle rammed into their back, have their foot trampled by an non-secured bike or be crushed by luggage that is heavy and a little too highly placed. It's when you're packed in like sardines that you're actually safest, although it can get very hot and bothered.

Which brings me onto unattended luggage. Unattended luggage itself doesn't bother me. Nobody wants to put a bomb on a train from Blackburn to Preston, surely? Maybe a Burnley fan, but the 6th finger would get in the way of the trigger. What annoys me is the announcement which bellows 'Please do not leave your luggage unattended', then followed by (at all stops) 'Please remember to take your stuff with you'.

Occasionally, when staying somewhere, we need to take stuff with us. This is why it annoys me when people look at me with contempt for daring to bring a suitcase onto an already hot and over-crowded train. I therefore leave my suitcase in that space at the end of the carriage, before wandering off to find a seat. Then comes that announcement (as I said before) 'Please don't leave luggage unattended at any time.' WHAT?? So what am I expected to do with this big bag of clothes, university notes, some books, toiletries and bits of electronic equipment that weighs about the same as me? Shall I perch it on my lap? Shall I wedge a corner of it into the inadequate little poor excuse for a shelf above me? Shall I leave it in the aisle for other passengers (and the ticket-guy) to clamber over? No. What they expect me to do, is exactly what I have done and leave it t the end of the carriage. They know I HAVE to do that, which means that they cannot stop it being stolen. They have reduced (cut off completely) their liability should anything happen to my stuff while I'm sat down. They are covering their own arses by asking me to do something which they have made impossible to do! They can then make out that any consequences are my fault entirely. Tossers.

Finally, I do believe that trains are under-funded. This is not the fault of the Government, but the companies that refuse to subsidise at least SOME of their massive profits back to Joe Public/ passengers/ customers/ suckers. The fact that the Government has to unnecessarily fork out on railways leads me to conclude that they are well within their rights treat it like an elderly relative who won't do the decent thing and die. It's a shame, but the Government's money is better spent elsewhere (healthcare, education etc). The only way our trains will be as good as the French/German/Japanese services (yes, I mean that) is if the companies that run our railways are prepared to give back say 10% of their £438million profits. Yes, those are their PROFITS, after every other cost is accounted for. Greedy bastards!

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