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Nationalisation is the only thing that will save our railways

Greg Devine


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A warning: this might come across as a rant, but when I explain, I think you’ll be equally as annoyed as I am right now. I’m currently sat on an LNER Azuma train from Newcastle to Doncaster. The train should’ve left at 19:02; it’s now 19:40. This isn’t a huge a problem for me, admittedly—delays happen, and I’ll receive a refund of sorts. I was given plenty of notice and the train station staff were more than helpful, explaining why the train was delayed and how I could claim relevant compensation.

So, where does this become a rant? So far, in previous articles, I’ve painted LNER in a good light, and there’s a perfectly good reason why—they’re not a private company. The organisation and the provision it administers is not run for profit. Instead, the company’s whole focus is to get its customers from A to B in the quickest, best way possible. The service hasn’t been stripped to its core just to make some rich men even richer. 

Train riding through the countryside

My train to Doncaster is only the first part of my overall journey, however. The second part takes me from Doncaster to Meadowhall in Sheffield. This service is run by TransPenineExpress. There wasn’t a second part to my journey, though, because this service was cancelled. 

I wasn’t given this information, which is an issue in itself. It was only when I contacted TPE’s support team on Twitter to ask what would happen if my LNER service into Doncaster was delayed significantly, that I learned the TPE service wasn’t even running. I was told to get ‘the next TPE train’. The next one under their service departed the next morning. I’m sure you can understand why I wasn’t best pleased with this. I asked the TPE team if my ticket was valid on other services. It was valid on Northern services, but only those going to Meadowhall. The next Northern train to head there was due at 21:17, which I was likely to miss anyway, due to LNER’s delay.

Luckily, Sheffield and Doncaster aren’t miles apart and I have friends and family who were able to pick me up from Doncaster, but this isn’t the point. TPE essentially dumped me into Northern’s hands in a ‘it’s not our issue’ manner. I can’t help but feel that, if the railways were nationalised, this wouldn’t happen.

Nationalisation would mean the entire railway network working as one for a start, with a goal around providing a good service to passengers rather than driving profit at all costs. Should one service be delayed, causing me to miss a connecting train, it would be much, much less of an issue. Companies wouldn’t be able to pass the buck to each other and the whole network would be aware of problems elsewhere in the country that could be impact passengers on their lines. In my scenario, if the railways were privatised, the staff at Doncaster would have been aware of my delay and they’d have known exactly which train to put me on or whether I’d need to arrange alternative transport to reach my destination. Companies are supposed to help their customers, but you see very little effort of this on the railways. They could make passengers’ lives easier, but instead, I had to scour different apps to find out if any other trains were even running to Meadowhall, let alone whether my ticket would be accepted on their services.

That’s another issue. Tickets. They’re far too expensive in most cases. Companies want to make as much money as possible, so they charge as much as they can get away with. Usually, this is astronomical, but every now and then you can get a decent deal, as long as you travel during unsociable hours. Tickets aren’t valid for the whole network, however, only the operator you’re traveling with, which causes terrible issues when there are delays. There can be some leeway; however, finding out which companies will accept your ticket is, in a word, challenging. 

Even if my ticket had been accepted by an alternative rail operator, for how long would this agreement last? For example, had I been stuck in Doncaster for the evening, would I have been able to use my ticket on a TPE or Northern service the next day? I don’t have an answer for that—and, half the time, neither do the operators’ support teams. I can’t put too much blame their way; these issues are not their fault, and they seem to do as much as they possibly can to help.

I’ve talked about the current strikes in previous articles. The staff are right to take industrial action, and I will back them until the necessary changes are made. The railway’s issues probably require a new government, in truth, which will hopefully happen soon.

The railways in Britain were once cutting edge…the pinnacle of travel, both useful and glamourous. Now we can barely get from A to B via train, and if you then need to get to C, you may as well cut your losses and look at alternative ways to get where you’re going.

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