The Great (East Coast) Train Robbery

Last weekend’s jaunt to Edinburgh started as usual from the rather splendidly refurbished Kings Cross station.

The refurbished part of Kings Cross Station

The refurbished part of Kings Cross Station

Typically when our platform was advertised we discovered that the automatic ticket barriers didn’t work, so with a typically British attitude to bureaucracy instead of just opening the gates and letting people through (after all the only trains in that part of the station were for Scotland and the north so tickets would be checked on board anyway) three station jobsworths were busy checking every single ticket before we were allowed through to board the train.

Once underway another ticket check was started. Now we book our tickets way in advance to get the best deal (usually about £36) and being seasoned travellers on this route we always make sure that we get on the right train. Not so the poor Spanish lady sitting close to us. She had paid £60 for her ticket at the ticket office, and to make matters worse she had missed the 9.30 service only to be told by one of the station staff that she should get on the 10.00 and that she might have to pay a little bit extra.

So when the ticket inspector got to her she explained her situation only to be told that she would have to buy another ticket and it would cost £125.70, despite having already paid out £60 for her missed train. We thought that was a bit harsh on someone who had made a genuine mistake, especially when that person only spoke English as a second language and despite the fact that the train wasn’t even full, there were plenty of empty seats. Despite tears from the Spaniard and protests from other travellers (to whom he was actually quite dismissive) the callous hardman of a ticket inspector insisted on taking the money from her, after all rules are rules! What a great impression of the United Kingdom that poor woman will take back to Spain and what a fantastic impression of East Coast’s corporate culture to the travelling public.

That will be £125.70

That will be £125.70

Given that rail fares in the UK are really complicated I’m sure this happens all the time, surely there must be some discretion that the ticket collectors can use in cases of genuine error like this, after all it wasn’t as if she was trying to dodge the fare, East Coast had already pocketed £60 for her seat on the previous train before extorting the further £125.70 out of her.Not to mention the railway companies can change the conditions of tickets to suit themselves when they cancel trains and dump passengers onto other services or replacement buses.

Passengers enjoying the comfort of a £125.70 fare to Edinburgh

Passengers enjoying the comfort of a £125.70 fare to Edinburgh

It’s reckoned that in the UK we have some of the most expensive railways in the world, certainly the fare structure is quite bizarre with some people paying £36 for a guaranteed seat from London to Edinburgh while others pay £125.70 and can end up standing all the way. Having just checked the cost of Easyjet London to Edinburgh flights for this Saturday they are all £20 cheaper than the standard rail fare.  I actually paid less to fly to Cyprus last year than the standard London to Edinburgh rail fare which clearly is quite bonkersl!