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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  • Gerard Mulholland

    The day British Rail was nationalised was a truly grim day for Britain.

    Not one of the supposedly independent private companies that have been concerned since has managed to exist without phenomenally heavy subsidies from the taxpayer.

    Privatisation didn’t save the taxpayer one single penny and it cost the passenger dear.

    Only the greedy rail company shareholders profit – and how!

    So the entire system should be renationalised without a single penny of compensation from the State.

    Any aggrieved companies or shareholders should have the right to obtain any compensation adjudged due from the pockets (or estates) of every member of both Houses of Parliament who voted for the privatisation of the railways at Second Reading, Committee Stage, Report Stage or Third Reading.

    The MPs and Peers concerned -and their heirs if they’re already deceased- should be both individually and collectively liable.

    The aggrieved litigants should be able to pursue their compensation into the hands of third parties, legatees, recipients of gifts, etc. just like the proceeds of crime for that is what the privatisation of the railways was – a crime.

    It’s high time that legislators bore personal rsponsibility for their actions – in legislation as well as in corruption.

  • ingo

    The privatised rail companies are fleecing us, their cheapest tickets, not available at stations, discriminating against those who have to travel to urgent apointments, are sold out even weeks before the train leaves the station, a ridiculous affair.

    privatised rail in britain operates the worst and most expensive service in Europe and it should be nationalised, without re-imbursement of lost profits, they should only get back what they themselves invested.

    I do not mind subsidising a national rail service, thats fine, but to subsidise private shareholders and other PFI’s that have fallen on economic hard times, is robbing taxpayers.

  • Reccy

    “This phone call will be recorded for training purposes to help our staff be even less useful in the furute. Thank you.”

  • Jon

    “The day British Rail was nationalised was a truly grim day for Britain” – err, you mean privatised, shurely? 😉

    But I also wonder why we put up with the ludicrously priced train fares in the UK. Perhaps it is that old problem – if prices are hiked suddenly, there is an outcry; but if prices steadily go up over time, we feel it is inevitable, we grumble, but ultimately we do nothing about it.

  • Teesbridge

    Remember, amidst all the “Thatcher-screwed-the-trains” rants, that NXEC gouges everyone because it has to pay Gordon Brown over one billion quid for the franchise period as a whole. I’d say that’s a passenger tax, not a subsidy.

  • George Dutton

    In the above link…

    “A Belgian website [5] describes Hasselt identity cards as becoming “like gold in value”, because of free bus travel.”

    We can do without that, no need for “identity cards”. Otherwise it’s the way to go for the future.

  • Chris Swan

    On the bright side you can pretty much rely on NXEC being more than an hour late into York on a Sunday, so you’ll qualify for getting a 100% refund of that outrageously expensive ticket with their ‘delay repay’ scheme.

  • reformer

    It does not get much better on NXEA.

    When NX won the combined Gt Eastern and West Anglia franchise they called themselves “One” and then having reliveried and resigned most of the stock and stations, changed to the parent company’s brand last year. The Guard on a train I was travelling on on the morning of the changeover said all the money for the re-reliveried etc etc was being paid to the company direct from the DfT. Now they have introduced a seat reservation charge, having pledged to get rid of the much prized and long-running restaurant service on the Norwich-London route http://norwichrailwayrestaurant.wordpress.com/

    NX have just published proposls to upgrade the trains which look good, but the devil may be in the detail.

  • mike cobley

    The pricing structure of tickets for rail and air is an utter disgrace – if ever something was crying out for regulation, that is. Ultimately, the most outrageous situation to be in is to be sitting on a train in a seat identical to another across or right next to you, occupied by someone who paid 30,40,60, whatever quid less. That really is enough to make me wanna get out the torch and pitchforks.

    Best of luck in Norwich, by the way.

  • Polo

    Apologies for going a bit off topic.

    This thread reminded me of the time (1965) when the name “British Railways” was rebranded to “British Rail”. One of the benefits claimed for the change was the millions of pounds worth of ink that would be saved in forms, notepaper, tickets, etc. from the use of the shorter title.

    I’m not joking. I remember it well because I had a particular interest in the company, having worked for it in Jersey, CI, in a summer job, some years previously. But that is another story entirely.

  • Ebrahim Piperdy

    Hmmm, seems the rip off railway system is the same as is. Next time try getting on a different website and not National Express. For instance, you can get the same ticket by visiting London Midland and likely not to encounter an error. I got exactly the same ticket from their website for a National Express service.

    Also I have noticed fares are expensive from Norwich to most places. Go for a few singles. When I have travelled up north, I get a single to Peterborough and then a return from Peterborough to Leeds (didnt go to York on this occasion). I then get a single from Peterborough to Norwich. Can work out a lot cheaper.

    Seems like a good election issue. Reliable trains at reasonable prices.

  • George Dutton

    “Seems like a good election issue. Reliable trains at reasonable prices”

    Not as good as this one…

    A lot of public servants/civil servants live in Norwich…

    http://tinyurl.com/n8mnom

    Where the USA goes today…The UK will go tomorrow,but at the moment…

    tinyurl.com/lccb9p

    Soon to change…me thinks…A few votes to win if this is made an issue.

  • anne

    Oh please. Iran’s in crisis and all you can talk about is railways. Sorry you had a bad trip and all, but would be interested to hear your take on the protest/CIA-funded insurrection/bloodbath/twitter revolution. Press TV says this, BBC says that. Twitter could be anyone anywhere in the world. Whom to believe? I am sure you have an opinion.

  • Martin

    The worst train service in the world is a partly consequence of having the weakest and most toothless regulator in the world.

  • Daniel Hoffmann-Gill

    Tell me about it, as an actor who works in theatre quite often, I have to use the full length and bredth of the UK train system to get to venues and it can be a heartbreaking and mystifying experience at the best of times.

    I have a particular loathing of Virgin trains, who, at weekends, used to eek out the journey from London to Manchester into a 4 hour epic.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Only two carriages on the Glasgow-Edinburgh ‘rush-hour’ trains, every day, every week, for years. Standing-room only. Ticket-prices double at rush-times, including in the tourist season. The road traffic b/w Glasgow and Edinburgh at these time is enough to turn a nun into an axe-murderer! Everyone knows about this ridiculous, environmentally crazy and counter-intuitive situation, which has persisted through Tory and Labour UK govts and, Labour Scottish Executives and the SNP Scottish govt as well! MSPs and half the City of Edinburgh actually use the railways themselves, for goodness sake (do they all go first-class, one wonders?). Why doesn’t it ever change?

    Frankly, local activist democracy in the USA, France and Italy is much stronger, people wouldn’t have put up with it for this long. We – and of course I include myself in this observation – are a bunch of mugs!

  • paul

    Standing room only last time I was forced to use a train. Not in any rush to repeat the experience. If youre going to beat people with a “green” stick for having the effrontery to use cars every chance you get, the least you can do is have a public transport system somewhere south of daylight robbery for horse drawn cart travelling conditions.

  • mary

    The travel advice centre at Guildford (South West Trains) closed down to make way for a M&S Food outlet. Alcohol is available of course to fuel the late night anti-social behaviour.

    Also you are lucky to find a ticket office window open. Machines only and there is not enough time to buy an off peak ticket to catch the first off peak train to Waterloo.

    Over 400 staff have been made redundant mostly from the smaller stations along the line so no ticket offices at all. The recession is being blamed and the drop in passenger numbers. I believe I read in the EDP that Nat. Express have made or are making 1,500 staff redundant.

  • Gerard Mulholland

    Actually, Teesbridge (June 21, at 3:11 PM), privately owned railways have always been a rip-off the tax payer.

    1. When railways were first built they got ‘private’ Acts of parliament to authorise them -private companies- to compulsorarily purchase anybody’s land to build the railways on – and at a price they themselves fixed.

    2. Throughout the long century of rail disasters due to penny-pinching maintainance- crashes of such horror and magnitude that many of them are still the stuff of local legend- the railway companies sought and got subsidies and tax breaks from government after government.

    3. When they were nationalised, as with all nationalisations, the price paid in Treasury Bonds was again fixed by the companies themselves – ‘the free market price’ on a date declared in advance.

    4. After half a century of heroic management and deliberate under-investment by 33 years of Conservative governments and 14 years of Labour governments, the railways were flogged off on at prices fixed in advance which were expressly calculated to be so much less than the free market price would be so as to ‘attract’ investment and, sure enough, as soon as they’d been flogged off, they ‘doubled in value’.

    5. Ever since, the routes have been franchised out in order to raise money for the Treasury but subsidised by sums greater than the franchisees pay!

    6. The principal railways, like all essential infrastructure, should belong to the community as a whole.

    Private competition, freely entered into and freely financed without a penny of taxpayer subsidy, a square foot of compulsorarily purchased land or a single second of use of publicly owned rail facilities, should be permitted for those who seriously want to pay through the nose for the privilege of being ‘private’ and to provide the entrepreneurial input of innovation which is the only thing that any socialised systems ever lack.

  • andy cross

    remember never vote tory ,if thay get in it will be a bad bad day for britain.remember they privatized the railways bring back brithish rail all is forgiven.

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