With spiralling costs of car ownership, train travel might seem like the answer to the dilemma of transport. Readily available and with a large network, trains should make travelling around easy.
However, with stories of delays, cancelled services and over-crowding, is there a crisis on the trains in the UK?
Lack of co-ordination
Since the national network was broken up and privatised there have been increasing incidences where there’s a lack of co-ordination between providers. If you’re travelling across the country the chances are you’ll be crossing over different networks - and that’s where the problems start.
Train operators are held to account for their performance, which includes reporting on services which are delayed and run late. This means they’re unwilling to work with other providers and hold trains temporarily to allow individuals to make their connection.
This lack of co-ordination puts customers in a difficult position if they miss their last connection through no fault of their own. The guidelines stipulate that if you miss the last train home because of a delay, the operator has a responsibility to find you another way to reach your destination. This sound great in practice but in order to get help, you need to ask at the station or phone the train operator directly. If the station is unmanned or there’s no answer on the phone, this means you’re stuck and need to find your own way home - out of your own pocket.
You can reclaim the expenses at a later date, but on the night in question if you don’t have the funds to pay for a taxi, it’s not much help. Indeed, the solution to the lack of co-ordination overall appears to be to pay out financial compensation after the event which is nice, but not really any practical use at the time.
You don’t need to be a regular train-traveller to have heard about the problems with cancelled services and delays. Whether it’s the wrong sort of leaves on the track, snow or other excuse, cancelled trains can be seriously disruptive to those relying on the service.
In 2017/2018 there were 14 days when the services were “severely disrupted”; this is when more than 5% of services have to be cancelled. Aside from this, an average of 2.6% of train journeys were completely cancelled in 2017/2018.
Even when things did get moving, there were still problems. Only 63% of trains arrived on time in 2017/2018; for some operators this figure dropped as low as 39%.
When you’re relying on a train to get where you need to be, these figures just aren’t good enough.
Unless you’re travelling on the Orient Express, the chances are that your train journey won’t be the most comfortable, especially if you’re travelling at a busy time. Reserving a seat can be a help as it means you’re guaranteed somewhere to sit and a bit of breathing space. However, you’re still likely to be hemmed in by hordes of people standing in the aisles, and the whole coach will feel crowded and hot.
If you don’t have the foresight to reserve a seat, it’s a roulette every time you board about where you might end up. In the worst case scenario you might find yourself squashed up against the exterior of the toilets - not the place you want to be!
Standing room only doesn’t make travelling by train enjoyable and on popular routes, you might not be able to get on at all. Operators such as First Great Western have received numerous complaints from disgruntled commuters who found their trains full even as it pulls out of the station.
When you’re planning a train journey, the last thing you expect is to end up as a victim of violent crime, yet that’s exactly what happened to 9263 people in 2016/2017. An increase of 12.5%, assaults on both the mainline trains and the Tube are continuing to rise despite campaigns to try and improve the safety record.
The facts get worse as it’s not just violent assaults which are increasingly occurring on the train; other types of crime are rising too. Sexual crimes increased by 8% to 2132 cases while hate crimes rocketed by 23% with 2756 cases recorded.
A separate report recorded the number of major injuries which occurred in 2017; these had increased by an eye-watering 21% to 318. There were also 7 fatalities. All of these injuries occurred on mainline trains and weren’t as a result of train crashes or accidents.
Taking a journey shouldn’t mean risking your safety and well-being but increasingly with train journeys, this is the case. With coaches that are isolated from the driver and frequently no conductors passing through, it’s a prime opportunity for assaults and attacks.
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A better solution
If all of the above sounds horrendous, it gets worse when you consider that train fares have risen by a blistering 42% since 2008.
However, there is some good news on the horizon. There is another alternative for travel other than using a car: coach travel.
With no isolated carriages, assaults of any kind on a coach are almost unheard of and for safety reasons, passengers aren’t allowed to board and spend the journey cramped together while standing in the aisles. Quite simply, if there’s no seats available, you won’t be travelling but with an abundance of coaches available, it’s not difficult to make a reservation.
Coach operators cover the whole of the country and it’s an extremely economical way to travel too. With facilities such as reclining seats, WiFi and onboard bathrooms, you can settle down for a long journey in comfort and style.
There are many different coach operators so if you’re looking for reassurance about who you’re planning to travel with, websites such as Trusted Travel Reviews can really help. With real testimonials from passengers who have used their service, you can get peace of mind that you’ve booked with a quality provider.