Going from A to B by train

There are many pernicious legacies of the Thatcher era, as of course there are of the Major years (complaining and blaming) and Blair (false sentiment and jargon), but for my money, the worst of MT’s legacies can be experienced when you try to buy a train ticket from A to B. Or anywhere else, come to that.

Let us assume that you wish to travel from Exeter to Manchester to Darlington and back to Exeter (as my children do, which is a relief). Because they are going to Manchester, why not nip over and say hello to the father who has escaped their southerly clutches? As many of you will have spotted, the first problem is that they are going back on a different line from the one on which they came: so a return ticket is going to be no help. And so a game begins. Were you to go to a station, you would be given a fairly fearsome sum to pay, so you go to an online service – let us say ‘thetrainline’, although there are others – and you start trying to manufacture the mot convenient but cheapest passage.  The variation is quite considerable, and of course the online service has a finite supply of tickets, which dwindles daily. You can find a price for a stage of the route only to find it’s been snapped up when you go back.

But the new game is really mind-bending. If say you want to go from Darlington to Exeter, there may be only highly priced fares. But if nyou go from Darlington to Birmingham and then Birmingham to Exeter, you may get two very cheap tickets for two stages on the same train. In fact, the more you break the journey into stages, the more the chances are you can slash literally hundreds of pounds from your journey. But it takes hours to work out. It is one of the consequences of the splitting of the railway into competitive bits. It is lunatic. And, while you are doing it, unless you are very sound of mind, you will probably make a slip (I did – I had to waste some time on the phone to make sure I could pick up all the tickets, which will require 30-40 taps of numbers into a machine, from the same place. And even now, I think I missed a trick. I might have been able to get part of the journey as a return. Damn.

Paradoxically, the cheapest option also includes travelling part of the way first class. That is heart-wrenchingly, brain-numbingly, nostril-baitingly mad. But that’s ‘Choice’ for you. I am against Choice. One sort of car, one sort of building, one ring to bind them all, and one way of getting a ticket at a fixed price: that’s my, er, platform.

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