Rail travel

This is the tragicomedy of travel. What should be a simple, straightforward, stress-free method of travel has, over the past 50 years, become a sick joke. All you have to do is go to France or Italy to find out how rail travel should be organised, i.e. cheaply and efficently with plenty of trains. The big problem with rail travel in Britain is that it has been used as a political football ever since it was nationalised in the 1940s. For most of the time afterwards, Conservative governments won general elections and failed to invest in the railway system because they didn’t believe in nationalisation and ultimately they privatised the railways again. “New Labour” doesn’t believe in Nationalisation either so the railways have remained a mish-mash of inefficient private companies who put profits before passengers and have been responsible for a number of major disasters which were, in several cases, down to badly maintained tracks. The result is that we have an expensive, fragmented system where it is not possible to find out the total cost of a ticket, and in some cases not possible to buy a ticket at all, between operators. Example: National Rail Enquiries (08457 48 49 50) could not give me a price for a cheap day return between Southend Victoria and Gants Hill even though there is only one change, at Stratford. London Transport (020 7222 1234) couldn’t either. So for this simple journey I would have had to buy a second ticket at Stratford, but neither organisation could tell me the price of the entire journey or sell me just the one ticket. Incidentally, the Southend to Stratford leg would have been £9 return, absolutely extortionate (it would cost me about £6 to go there and back by car). They could have sold me a one-day Travelcard, which costs £13.50 and gives me the right to travel all day around London if I want to. That’s not much good if I want to make a direct journey to visit friends for the evening.

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