Train journeys are funny things. On the way to work, in overcrowded carriages we actively try not to initiate contact with our fellow travelers, however on longer journeys when the trains are less full there seems to be no such taboo.
On our return from Edinburgh to London yesterday, before we had even left Waverley the three of us had struck up a conversation with the two guys sitting on the table opposite ours. Admittedly our starting point was about how awful long journeys in the UK can be and the bewildering array of prices charged for them.The fact that the toilet at the end of our carriage was out of order and there was no trolley service for second class passengers until Newcastle helped the conversation along all the way to said city, where the train filled up and further conversation became difficult crammed in amidst the iPad and mobile fiddling hordes.
Journeys formed the mainstay of our conversation and we discovered that one of the chaps had worked in Moscow. Now one of my overwhelming memories of Russia was the journey we made from St Petersburg to Moscow on the Sapsan High speed train.
It took three and half hours to travel the 400 or so miles from St Petersburg’s Moscow Station (very pragmatic the Russians, as the train goes to Moscow) to Moscow itself. All the passengers had seats and we were kept up to date on our progress in both Russian and English. A far cry from what passengers experienced on the the four and three quarter hours it took to get from Edinburgh to London on Sunday, even if we didn’t need the armed guards the patrolled the Sapsan’s carriages.
We had paid jut £25 for our tickets from Edinburgh on the internet, however one of our new traveling companions had forked out over £100 for his ticket at the station on the day. To add insult to his predicament, unlike him we had reserved seats and by the time we got to York the train was so crowded that anyone with one of these expensive sameday tickets was standing in the the carriage vestibule all the way to London. I think railway companies have a nerve charging people those sort of prices and then expecting them to take pot luck on whether they get a seat or not. From what I have heard this is not uncommon between Edinburgh and London.
Added to this whenever you complain to the railway companies they are full of excuses as to how they can worm out of the compensation terms in their worthless customer charters. Apparently engineering works that add an hour and half to your published journey time can do that, because according to them, it’s up to you to find out about them yourself before you travel.
It puts me in mind of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
“But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”
“Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.”
“But the plans were on display …”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”