“Well, a train is a train. Why do you make a big deal out of it?”
Probably because we always complain (especially in Europe) about our railway system but we usually don’t understand that a developed country like the UK can have a crappy organization. I did complain about our system, in France, and now French don’t understand why I don’t complain anymore when my train has only a 30-minute delay…
So, I use the British network every month, even several times a month. I can assure you it is a true pain and I take back all the negative feedback I used to say about the French network.
In the UK, the railway system is private and is owned by private companies only that shares the lines and the country. It could be a huge surprise when many countries around the world decided that the government will control the railway system, using a public company or a private company 100% owned by the government.
In the UK, as soon as the government decided to privatise the system, the service has been hugely deteriorated, without the option to turn back to the previous organisation. Actually, the British warned the French when we used to go on strike to ask the government to privatise the lines… Fortunately, the government did not listen to the French!
So, it doesn’t exist a unique company. Some companies operate at the national level and/or the regional level. There is no price competition because not so many companies operate on the same lines. Competition doesn’t really exist, the prices are just outrageous and the trains are very old.
To give you an idea, in the UK, when you anticipate on one of the busiest route: South Wales-London, it’s £110/130€ minimum… Meaning non-exchangeable and non-refundable. For only 2h15 (and it’s actually 2h45-3h most of the time). So if you have a journey to take quickly, well it goes up to £175/200€, when there are still seats available.
Trains are old, but start to be replaced by new ones. Woohoo! Yes but…No. As there is no competition, the company just reconfigured the cars to install more seats. And the new seats are horrible! Impossible to stay seated more than 30 minutes now…
Delays are very frequent, booking cancellations too, platform changes, wagon changes… And the schedule can be simply cancelled too…
But here in the UK, if you want to complain… The company doesn’t care at all! Well, if you think about it, if you are not happy about it, what are you going to do?! You can’t choose another company, there is no competition!
“So take the bus then”. Yes it’s cheaper, but it’s still a 5-hour trip (if there is no traffic around London….Lol).
“So take the plane then!” Yes, but the time you take to go to the airport, and the time from the airport to the city center… still the same: 5 hours.
So, no, you don’t really have the choice. Basically, no direct competitor.
Oh and talking about all the problems that you can encountered during your trip, don’t expect any agent or controller on the platform to help you. As I said, they don’t care. Sometimes, they give you information via the PA system. But even the guy on the mic doesn’t know anything. He just gives you information when he receives them. So it’s frequent to hear “maybe”, “it might be”, etc. Not great!
Finally, one more thing. There is not so many loyalty cards. Even if there are several companies, there is no competition so no need for clients’ loyalty.
Enjoy your trip!
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