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British Rail Rants & Suggestions


November 4, 2010 by Jools Stone

I’m delighted to be hosting consumer travel blogging A-Lister Darren Cronian in this guest post on the many shortcomings of the British rail network.

Besides Travel Rants and his local blog My Life in Leeds, Darren provides a great service to the travel blogging community in Europe by co-organising next week’s Travel Blog Camp with Kevin May of tnooz.

This takes place in London on Tuesday, during the big trade exhibition World Travel Market.  I’ll be around at both if anyone wants to say hello.  Now, over to Darren…

East Coast train to London

East Coast train to London


Improving the rail network in UK

From Kuala Lumpur to Poland and Belgium, I have never travelled on such an unreliable train network than that in the UK. Airlines are reducing the number of domestic flights, and from an environmental perspective, that is good news, but in its place needs to be much improved rail links between our major cities and airports.

What would you do to improve the rail network in the UK?  Here are a few suggestions to start you off.


Nationalise the rail network

A number of people suggested on Twitter that the government should nationalise the rail network and I have to agree. Brighton-based freelance journalist, Nikki Bayley said, “It should be about providing a public service, not for profit, shareholders take precedence over customers.”

Improve customer service

At the weekend, my journey back to Leeds from London took an extra two hours because of engineer works on the line. Our train was diverted and there was no mention on the East Coast line website or at Kings Cross. Frustration amongst everyone around me set in because we all wanted to get to our destination.

Andy Jarosz who writes 501 Places told me, “The attitude of train staff needs improving because too often they treat customers as the enemy, and ‘service’ is sadly lacking.”

A weatherproof rail network

When I asked people following me on Twitter what improvements need to happen, the majority said we need a rail service that runs all year round. When it comes to the cold weather, wrong type of snow, wet leaves on the track; the network seems to come to a halt. This should not happen and trains should be able to cope with the diverse weather conditions.

My advice on booking train tickets

I travel to London a few times a year on the East coast line and book two months in advance – I book two single tickets, and travel off peak where possible. The later you leave it, the more expensive the ticket will be.

How can we improve the rail network?

So there you go; what would you add to improve the rail network in the UK? How do you think the service compared with other countries? I am interested to hear your experiences travelling on the British rail network, so please add your comments.


Darren Cronian has written about consumer issues in travel since April 2005. Travel Rants is a great place to share your opinions and experiences on various travel discussions, from the latest travel news to hotel rants and travel advice.

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  1. Oliver says:

    Trains trains trains . . . where do I start?

    From commuting for 4hrs a day (total, 2 each way) to Manchester, to 3hr+ journeys all over the UK, I have to say it is very hit & miss.

    I have found the better staff to be Virgin and the worst to be those that work for the regional ranchises. The ones with the rubbish trains and crap carriages.

    I was once in the toilet, about 10 minutes from my station, I had a ticket and wasn’t dodging any fares. But I gets a knock on the door from the conductor urging me to get out and show her the ticket or she’d open the door and I’d be arrested at the next stop.

    There is no sense of having a duty of care. Every customer is a time waster or a pain in the backside to staff. They don’t have the energy, motivation or desire to do a good job.

    Sack them all and make them reapply for their jobs, that’d be fun

  2. Jools Stone says:

    A controversial view Oliver and one I’m sure many will sympathise with! I think it does vary a lot between routes. I took a trip up to Mallaig in the summer and the all staff were great, particularly the buffet trolley lady, who was helping disperse the clouds of midges which joined the train at one of the big hiking stops in the Highlands!

  3. John says:

    It is a strangely British habit to knock our own country’s infrastructure, although they do the same about rail in the USA. In actual fact rail does not always run better elsewhere. I have lost count of the number of times that trains have been cancelled in Chamonix or even worse got on them to have them fail before reaching their destination. This train is a French – Swiss venture, two of the rail companies the Brits claim operate better services.

    Leaves on the line came about as a direct result of leaving those shrubs on the sides of cuttings to grow, in order to save the expense of cutting them. It worked fine for 2 or 3 years!

    The wrong type of snow just means that the snow that fell was not the type the rail companies had prepared for. Last winter for example Eurostar fitted membranes to prevent snow ingress into their locomotives but the snow was too fine. This was because very fine snow usually melts or aggregates in Southern England / Northern France, but the extreme cold kept it fine.

    Of course there is room for improvement and even though I have pointed out that the French system is not perfect, at least they have a network that is powered 80% by nuclear power. In the 1980’s the state spent their taxpayers money on a high speed rail system. They let private companies build a toll motorway network.
    In the UK the government spent their taxpayers money on the road / motorway network and privatised rail. When the oil starts to get real expensive and then declines, who do you think will will be celebrating their transport system?

  4. Jools Stone says:

    Thanks John, interesting to have a few myths busted about the European rail Valhalla. I take my hat off to you, your in depth knowledge of these things is mightily impressive!

  5. As a frequent user of Belgian rail, I have to say that they are efficient. The train stations are grimy and reek of urine in some places, the conductors are surly and the ticket desk people seem biologically incapable of smiling but the trains are reasonably punctual and problems are well advertised.

    Having said that I’ve read that the safety procedures tend to be a little lax so perhaps things aren’t that good after all.

    When I used to live in Bury St Edmunds, I used to travel to London every so often and the transport company there (I forget the name) was quite good. It was a hassle to have to change at Stowmarket or Cambridge but the service was reliable and efficient – nothing like the stories I used to read about the rest of the country’s service.

    Different needs, different experiences I suppose.

  6. Dave Collier says:

    Renationalising the rail network? The East Coast is current renationalised (temporarily) and its record has been deteriorating ever since. What on earth makes anyone think that nationalisation will improve customer service? Some European countries still have nationalised mainline railways, eg Italy still has. Hmmm.

  7. This is very enlightening for me as an American who has viewed the European rail systems (including that in the UK) as being so much better than here. My train experiences have been limited, so maybe I’ve just been lucky. I hope that improvements will be forthcoming for your systems as well as those in the U.S.

  8. Great comments, and thanks for the opportunity to guest post here Jools.

  9. As I recall, I loved the train in the UK. Truthfully, I am dying to make the trip from London to Paris one of these days,

    • Interesting mix of comments.

      I have mixed experiences of rail in UK -I still think we are not that bad as people make it out to be-problem is France/Germany and now even China are upgrading and getting way ahead of the game. We are still in need of rapid modernisation and investment. In a globalised economy where infrastructure is key, the Govt is failing to invest in a better rail service that would not only help passengers but provide better mobility of goods.

      The govt is bankrupt -nationalising the service would mean intially subsidising the service which the govt can ill afford to…..maybe in long term a well run service that would increase load factor…still at what short term cost?

      East Coast-I travelled recently …it was a bit chaotic, slight changes in weather lead to delays and disruptions…again Network Rail are not doing their job of maintaining the lines properly.

      Still there is a lot to be praised about taking the train in Britain- we still boast some of the world’s most scenic routes. Take the Fort William to Mallaig line or Inverness to Kyle -stunning scenery. I’d like to see a revival of older disused routes and also see more steam trains-its part of our heritage and needs to be celebrated….slow travel is fun. Train travel at 300 km/h sounds impressive but you hardly see a thing from the window …..


  10. John says:

    Kash, There are about the same number of steam trains owned by preserved lines as there are operating locomotives on the main line network. Some of these actually operate on mainline routes (in the Summer Season and as Specials). They are hardly a sustainable option though.
    300 kph travel is a different way of looking at the countryside. Instead of focussing on the overhead line supports rushing past you, just focus further out towards the horizon. The real problem with sightseeing from High Speed Rail is that it is often in tunnels, cuttings or between soundproof barriers.
    The rail infrastructure is nationalised but you are absolutely correct in pointing out that it is starved of investment and that is usually where the problems are.
    The train operators generally do a good job and have invested in up to date trains. Load factors on trains has been increasing year on year for a long time now. In some cases it leads to standing room only trains, not my favourite mode of transport!

  11. Can i make a suggestion that could save your company a few bob.When a train comes into a platform at night it could turn the lights on and when it leaves it puts them back off again.Just a thought,

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