Monday, 12 January 2009

Let the train take the strain ...

I'm travelling to Britain this week where I am attending a gathering on Women in Ministry at the Windemere Centre in the Lake District in northwest England. I'm sad to say that I shall fly to and from Geneva.
After the meeting I'm going down to my home town of Redditch just south of Birmingham. My travel agent (aka Dr B) now has several handfuls of hair less than he did before after trying to book the relatively straightforward train journey from Windemere to Redditch, via Birmingham. On Thursday evening he checked the prices and found an advance purchase ticket costs 29 pounds, while a turn-up-as-you-go full fare ticket costs a whopping 57 pounds (at today's crazy exchange rates that's 64 euros - in more normal times maybe 80 euros, more than the fullfare buy-on-the-day 75 euro ticket for the 624 kilometre journey from Geneva to Paris on a TGV) - When he came to book the ticket yesterday, the cheap ticket was gone and the full fare ticket the only option (apart from an "off peak" ticket, which is supposedly cheaper than an "anytime" ticket but in fact costs an extra 12 pounds or so). However, by splitting the journey up into its three component parts, and by buying separate advance tickets, he got back to the original 29 pound offer - the reason it seems is that the advance tickets are tied to individual train operators and the supply of advance tickets that cover more than one train operator are more limited than those for the separate journey).
This prompted Dr B (who does have, it must be said, some trainspotting tendancies) to do some more research. He found, for example, that the unrestricted fare (no advance tickets available) for the 06.05 from Liverpool to London (345 kilometres) is £115, but if you buy three separate tickets between intermediate stations, the price comes down to 97.50 (without even needing to get off the train). On the route from Newcastle to London, a ticket that can be used on any offpeak train costs 104 pounds while the system offers an advance purchase ticket for an offpeak train at 105 pounds. This chaos is caused by the utterly disastrous Tory railway privatisation.
The UK department of transport claims that "European standard fares, used by the majority of passengers, are sometimes misleadingly contrasted with the highest UK open fares which are used by only 10-15% of passengers on a typical inter-city route. The remaining 85% of passengers pay the same or less than in comparable parts of Europe". However, the transport department is now switching the comparison by comparing restricted cheaper tickets with European standard tickets, when like-for-like would be to compare restricted tickets with restricted tickets - and in any case, ignores the fact that the reason why the majority of UK rail travellers use discount tickets is because the standard prices are so high!! The UK transport department signs off with glee, "Most European countries have a less differentiated fares' structure, but are now beginning to follow the UK’s lead." If this is the result of competition, then let us be preserved from the opening of competition on international rail services in Europe in 2010. Meanwhile, Chiltern Railways, which operates in the part of the country I come from, effectively passed into German state ownership after Deutche Bahn bought its parent company. Perhaps this will be a good things. In the same week that we've been trying to book my UK tickets we've also booked a Deutsche Bahn through (though restricted) train ticket first class from Geneva to Bremen, a return for just 168 euros and that's 787 kilometres each way.