I should have realised that attempting to use a train to travel anywhere more complicated than London was a mistake.
We booked tickets to go to Cornwall this weekend. All peachy – only a small second mortgage required. Now we discover (because we checked – not because anyone thought to tell us) that the train times have changed.
Even better – there aren’t any trains for much of the journey. Instead, there are buses. And there are few things that strike more fear into the heart than the words ‘rail replacement bus’.
Not only that, but there are actually no trains at all at the station we need to get back to on Sunday.
I mean, it’s not like returning to the same destination you left from is actually the whole point of transport, right?
We only find this out after searching various web pages and performing a series of arcane rites involving goat’s blood.
In fact, the latter is rather simpler than getting through on The Trainline’s premium enquiry line.
“You are 4,578,766th in the queue. Your call is only marginally important to us as a source of revenue as we charge 2p/minute for the privilege of holding and listening to Ed Sheeran’s greatest hits (all of them) while you wait to speak to some poor customer service sap who’s been abandoned in the firing line while his senior team slope off for afternoon tea at Claridge’s.”
At first, computer said everything was our fault. We could change the tickets for an earlier train (that was actually a bus), but it would cost us an admin fee of £10 per ticket per person, even though we weren’t the ones who decided to rip up half the line to a main holiday destination on, er, a bank holiday.
If we wanted to travel on a later train it would cost an extra £2,387, a pink gobstopper and a small, gold statue of a llama.
After we pushed the point, it turns out they might be vaguely interested in giving us a refund, but only if we returned the tickets by recorded post. That we’d have to pay for. I was only surprised we didn’t need to dig up a Babylonian priest and persuade him to produce a petition in cuneiform.
It’s not the first time recently a train trip has gone spectacularly wrong even before it’s started. But the last cock-up was on SNCF and Eurostar because of a strike. Yet both managed to email me, explain the alternatives and courteously offer a refund if they didn’t suit me – in exactly the same way Worst Great Western didn’t.
Perhaps it’s time we took our cue from our neighbours over the channel and went on strike – but as passengers. Or just drove instead.
Come on, everyone knows essential rail maintenance (which has to be done SOME time on our heavily overworked Victorian network) is scheduled for the times of lowest passenger numbers – which are, surprise surprise, Sundays and Bank Holidays. All the info you needed about cancelled trains or bus substitutes would have been available on the National Rail web site.
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If you buy a BMW and get handed the keys to a Mini, it’s mis-selling. Yet if you buy a train ticket and get put on a bus…. well, that’s fine. Only it isn’t. And you shouldn’t have to go hunting for information on whether or not you’re going to get what you’ve paid for.
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