National Express – The Worst Train Service In The World 42


I am finally back in the UK! I shall be arriving in Norwich tomorrow for the by-election.

Meantime I am dashing up to York with Emily today. This means dealing again with National Express – undoubtedly the worst train service in the world.

Last night around 21.30 I went online on the National Express website to purchase the train tickets. All went well on the website, until I reached payment. Then I received the following message.

“Delivery method not available. Collection on departure not available due to essential maintenance. Please purchase ticket at station.”

There was nothing I could do as telephone support stops at 20.00.

Today, entirely predictably, the same tickets are £172 more expensive. I telephoned the “Ticket purchase web support” number, and was told they could find me tickets only £80 more expensive, on a luselessly later train. Being a persevering fellow I asked to speak to a manager, who insultingly told me he had never heard of the message I had received on the website. He did not call me a liar outright, but plainly implied it. He suggested that I buy the full price tickets and then write to a PO Box number in Newcastle for a “Full investigation.”

I really don’t know why we put up with the ludicrous prices charged for on the day train tickets – generally much higher than the air fare. But if companies are going to insist that people book in advance to get cheaper fares – which are still extremely high by international standards – the least they can do is make sure their advance purchase systems work. A particularly annoying aspect of this is that I am registered on the National Express website, and was logged in when I tried to make the purchase, so they ought to be able to have a record of what happened, even if they don’t record when their own site is under maintenance.


42 thoughts on “National Express – The Worst Train Service In The World

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  • Andrew

    You can book tickets for all train services via other companies’ sites. When I was trying to buy tickets the other day, that’s exactly what I did. I bought the same tickets via Virgin.

  • Anonymous

    This is not a train ride post and I know that I am off topic – but I just read this one on torture and wanted to know what Criag’s take is on it – since it deals directly with torture – torture inflicted by and with the complicity of Her Majesty’s Government..

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8114001.stm

  • Jamie Murray

    If only the government would subsidise internal train travel rather than ryan-air and easy-jet then we’d have a better rail system with cheaper prices and far less pollution than now! Essentially British people pay a considerable amount in taxes to subsidise more than just the aforementioned airlines, most of which fly only short distances and internally (the most environmentally inefficient). As we all know, train travel is far more efficient than air travel with regards to emissions, especially if it’s full. However, it will never be full at today’s prices. The only reason that air travel is so cheap is because it is so well subsidised by the government.

  • Greg

    I’m currently sat on a National Express train that has been queuing outside Grantham for the last hour due to a broken down train ahead. The poor passengers waiting to alight at Grantham have been up and down like yo-yos after each promise of a movement towards the platform lurches to an empty halt. The announcer has ‘apologised for the lack of information’ and ensures us that ‘we will hopefully be moving forward shortly’. Beats moving backwards I guess, which is what National Express and there pitiful levels of service appear to be doing at an alarmingly – and depressingly – reliable rate. Hopeless is the only word for them.

  • Claire_M

    This is the kind of cr*p a lot of services give. One thing that is useful, is being able to make a PDF of their webpage and email them the pic of their website. You can get a freeware program called CutePDF (I have nothing to do with writing or promoting it – just find it useful) for this. Or take a photo with your mobile phone – reverse CCTV (I use this a lot too.)

  • mary

    Well here’s a turn up for the books.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8127851.stm

    National Express loses rail route

    The East Coast rail service has suffered falling passenger numbers

    The government is to take the East Coast rail service, run by National Express, into public ownership.

    The troubled rail franchise, which is expected to have lost £20m in the first half of the year, is suffering from slumping passenger numbers.

    Ministers have refused the company’s requests for its contract with the government to be renegotiated.

    The Department for Transport said that all East Coast services would continue and that tickets would be honoured.

    Existing operational staff will transfer to the new state company which will be set up to operate the route.

    The government added it intended to put the franchise out for tender from late next year.

    ‘No bail-out’

    National Express won the franchise from GNER in 2007.

    It agreed to pay the government £1.4bn to run the East Coast main line, which runs between Edinburgh and London, until 2015.

    At the time, many rail analysts said it had paid too much for the franchise.

    FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

    More from Today programme

    Now National Express has said it will walk away from the loss-making route after failing to alter the terms of its agreement – a step which prompted the government to intervene.

    Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said: “The government is not prepared to renegotiate rail franchises, because I’m simply not prepared to bail out companies that are unable to meet their commitments.

    “It is simply unacceptable to reap the benefits of contracts when times are good, only to walk away from them when times become more challenging.”

    In a statement, the government added that it believed it had also had grounds to end National Express’s two other rail franchises – East Anglia and c2c.

    But the company said it did not believe that the government had this power. It added that it did not expect the any losses from the franchise would be recouped from National Express.

    Earlier this week, rival transport company FirstGroup said a takeover approach made for National Express had been rejected.

    Debt pile

    Richard Bowker, the chief executive of National Express, has confirmed he is to leave the firm, to become chief executive of Union Railway in the United Arab Emirates.

    In a trading statement, National Express said that the “challenging economic environment” meant it was seeing fewer passengers on the East Coast Mainline and “significant” levels of people downgrading from first-class and full fares.

    The firm is trying to reduce a debt pile of about £1.2bn.

    Cuts have been made in dividend payouts to shareholders and other spending, while 750 jobs have also been lost.

    Last month, the company started charging passengers for reserving a seat on its East Coast and East Anglia franchises.

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