Britain’s Train Companies Working Together

The blue plastic case for my British National Rail Senior Card proudly proclaims: “Britain’s train companies working together.” Arriving at the Penzance train station with our Cross Country first-class tickets to Bristol, we learn that our nonstop train to Bristol has been cancelled and instead we will be taking a Great Western train to Plymouth and changing there for another Cross Country train to Bristol. A minor hassle, but so be it. We board the first-class carriage on the Great Western train only to discover that, according to the train manager, our first-class Cross Country tickets are not good for the first-class carriage on the Great Western train.

 Waiting for the train

Waiting for the train

After paying an additional £20, we procure seats in the first-class carriage and decide to at least get a free Cappuccino and snacks for our trouble and expense. “Sorry, only regular coffee or tea is offered free to first-class passengers,” the nice young lady tells me. “OK, what do you have that is gluten free?” I ask. “Well, there are crisps (potato chips)," she tells me. “Fine. And you do offer water, I take it.” “Yes, water is available without charge to first-class passengers.”

By now, I am determined to be a difficult, disgruntled elderly passenger today, so I wave my National Rail card, with its incriminating slogan prominently displayed, at the train manager. He informs me that National Rail is yet another company and is different from Great Western. Welcome to public transportation in the UK!

I probably should not complain about this situation, which is the result of the privatization of the train services of Great Britain. After all, we in the US invented “privatization” as an excuse to provide less service at greater cost, and the UK is only following our lead. I can remember when the UK had a fine public transportation system. Many years ago, I was able to travel from one end of the country to the other with my BritRail pass, purchased at moderate cost in the USA. I could simply go down to the train station, see what was “on offer,” choose my destination, and take a seat in the first-class carriage. It would be first class because all BritRail Passes were for first-class carriages.

If I saw something interesting when the train pulled into a station, I would depart and take a look, confident that there would be another train along soon. I remember seeing Salisbury Cathedral’s dominating presence in its small village and disembarking to spend nearly a day enjoying its wonders. How I envied the Brits, who not only had a wonderful transportation system but a smashing history to boot. That, of course, was before American ingenuity came along.

 Salisbury Cathedral from the train

Salisbury Cathedral from the train

Now we have a world that we (the US) largely created and it doesn’t work at all. The Brits, of course, still have that smashing history, but my further reading and study of British history has taken the luster off that as well. Oh well, this is just me being a difficult, disgruntled elderly passenger. Don't pay too much attention to my rantings today.

By the way, when we transferred to the Cross Country train at Plymouth, the train manager informed us that Great Western should indeed have honored our first-class tickets and not charged us. He was quite miffed since Cross Country has to honor first-class tickets from Great Western! He said we might be able to get reimbursed if we requested some forms at the train station and submitted our receipts. Privatization strikes again!

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