View From The Signalbox
As many of you will be aware I have had to do a lot of catching up to do on the subject of Railways; it was one thing to have been a train spotter in my youth, and a totally different thing to helping support the Friends, once my dormant interest in railways had been re-awakened by our founder, Frank Roach.
I decided that I should subscribe to a magazine and decided on reading "The Railway Magazine" which soon showed up my inadequacies. Then as the time went by I felt that all was not well with the learning process and switched to reading "Rail" and realised that I wasn't a "steam person" and was now reading material that was more in keeping with what I wanted to read.
What became blatantly obvious as I read these magazines was the fact that the whole re-organisation of the railways had been badly handled. I remember talking to a friend, a civil engineer with British Rail, about the impending re-organisation/privatisation (and this was some time before getting involved with FoFNL) and realising how stupid it all seemed. But, I decided that there were a lot of clever people out there in the industry and if that was the way they wanted to go then they were the ones to decide. How much more wrong could I have been, judging by all the clamour for things to be altered.
Let me now choose one aspect of the industry that will be a major influence on any decision I might make to forsake my car and take to the train, and that is the system of ticketing and how it is influenced by having different operators using the same lines, in our case GNER and ScotRail.
Rail magazine has a complete section dedicated to the question of fares "The fare dealer". Sometimes I can not believe the madness that is being described in these articles, but I can now, following the recent experience of my daughter. My daughter wished to travel from Inverness to Dunfermline and decided to arrange for her brother to collect her from Inverkeithing, a scheduled stop for some of the ScotRail services from Inverness. However, in her innocence, knowing that GNER operated out of Inverness and were offering a very cheap ticket put 2 and 2 together and got 5, wrongly assuming that she could use GNER to Inverkeithing and take advantage of the cheap ticket.
So when she 'phoned to make her bookings her troubles started. First she is told that she can not be sold a GNER ticket because Inverness is not a GNER station - oh really, then what are the trains doing there then? The young man then proceeds to make a complete hash of trying to explain the true situation to her, and she is no duffer, (fatherly pride!). In his frustration he uses a four letter word beginning with F, and I don't mean Fare, and puts her on hold, until a few minutes later a lady from Customer Services comes onto the line to enquire about 'the complaint that she wishes to make!' The result of this horrendous experience is that instead of spending £40 return and taking over 4 hours for the journey into Edinburgh and back out again, his recommended solution, she decided to drive for 3 hours, door to door, at a likely total cost of petrol of £30. Now I know that that is not the true cost, but as far as she is concerned she has already paid for the yearly costs of the car and another 350 miles is not going to make that much difference to the depreciation.
Hence, if you're going to see me thinking of taking the train regularly at least two things have to happen:
1. It doesn't matter who owns the train a fare is a fare which they all recognise and the fare structure is simple to understand,
2. The person who answers the 'phone has to be properly trained to handle enquiries sympathetically and accurately and again that will be more easily achieved by a simple structure of timetables and fare structures.