OBSERVATIONS ON THE JOYS OF TRAIN TRAVEL

You can interpret “joys of train travel” in two ways. Before starting this driving work in May last year, I hardly ever travelled by train. Now I do it all the time. Very, very occasionally, it is frustrating, e.g. delays, cancellations, overcrowded trains and the occasional obstructive member of station staff demanding that I have a ticket before I can go to the ticket office! So, “joys of” in a sarcastic sense. However, since I usually travel by train outside of rush hour on mostly uncrowded trains, it normally is a genuine joy. A nice drive, walk or bus to a station and pleasant train ride home (you can read about how I usually occupy myself on a train here). Here are some observations gleaned from my year and half of frequent train travel:-

PLATFORM ATHLETICS: If you see your train waiting at the station platform you will run for it even if you know it is not due to leave for another seven minutes. The pathetic loping run that you effect is slower than a brisk walk so it takes you longer to reach the train anyway (its the same run you do crossing the road when a car kindly stops for you).

GOING TO THE LOO: The public toilets in most station ticket halls have an automatic turnstile demanding 20p before you can proceed. If you are bereft of a 20p coin or you are simply a tightwad, don’t panic. After you have gone through the ticket barriers, you can usually go on the platform for free. Just ask your fellow travellers to look away for a few moments and remember not to face into the wind. Seriously, there are usually less financially demanding facilities on most station platforms.

LATE TRAINS. We like to knock our train services but to be fair, they are generally not too bad disastrous.  However, when trains are late, the announcement is met with no surprise and a general air of resignation. If a train is due at 13.45 and the board says it is expected at 13.48, most of us probably don’t consider that as late. If it actually arrives at 13.48, we often think that’s quite good. Swiss trains, on the other hand, are legendary for always being on time. However ….. many years ago when on a business trip to Switzerland, I was at a station waiting for a train to take me back to Zurich airport. It was after five o’clock, the sun was shining and the platform was packed with happy Swiss commuters chatting away, discussing their day at work and whether they would be having cheese fondue or maybe, … cheese fondue for dinner. Then something strange happened. The station clock ticked on to the time the train was due to arrive but no sign of any train. The atmosphere on the platform changed very noticeably. A murmur of disquiet crept along the platform. People looked confused and uncomfortable. This did not compute … the train was …. LATE!!?? I sensed a real feeling of concern. National pride had been severely dented. The cheese fondue waiting for them at home would be cold. From a British point of view it was very interesting bearing witness to this remarkable event. I read afterwards that those responsible for the delay were sentenced to six months hard labour in the Swiss cheese mines and had their Toblerone ration cut. Incidentally, this event took place in the Swiss town of Zug. “Zug” means train in German.

IC2000_Zürich_- Zug
Swiss trains are lovely to travel in – especially these double decker ones – and the scenery is often spectacular. However, the Swiss nation has been left mentally scarred by the infamous Zug incident.

HUMOUR: Train staff can be friendly and amusing; they are not all jobsworths. Example:

A member of staff collecting rubbish on a train somewhere in the East Midlands comes down the aisle with a large bin bag chanting this mantra: “Any rubbish​, coffees cups, laptops, mobile phones, Rolex watches, Nottingham Forest fans….”. Obviously a fan of Derby County Football Club (Nottingham Forest’s arch rivals).

UNORIGINAL HUMOUR: Two weeks later, a different member of staff on another train somewhere in the East Midlands:-

“Any rubbish​, coffees cups, laptops, mobile phones, Rolex watches, Derby County fans….”.

ON-BOARD REFRESHMENTS: Does anyone ever buy anything from the on-board refreshment trolley? It’s pushed up and down the train by a person looking and sounding totally dejected and miserable, like Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Coffees, teas, snacks … Brain the size of a planet and they just make me push this trolley up and down all day. Nobody notices. I don’t know why I bother.”

Well, if no-one notices, why not liven it up a bit? “Teas, coffees, lobster thermidor, earwig sandwiches, crêpe suzette, Mini Cheddars….”. No, still no-one took any notice. Have you noticed, there’s always Mini Cheddars on the trolley. Are they really that popular?

TRAIN ANNOUNCEMENTS: It is often difficult to decipher announcements made on trains but sometimes I manage it. The most alarming announcement that I have heard on a train was: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now arriving in March.” Hearing this in the month of May was quite disconcerting. Am I going to be stranded on this train for nine months? What are we going to eat? Will the Mini Cheddars last? Will my family miss me? Don’t answer that last question. Relief washed over me as I realised we were approaching the small town of March in Cambridgeshire.

APPROACHING THE NEXT STOP: Why does it take so long for a train to reach a station after the announcement “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now approaching X. X your next station stop.”? Everyone wolfs down their lobster thermidor, hurriedly puts their coat on, gathers belongings and stands up …. for the next 15 minutes as the train creeps more slowly than a Trabant full of elephants through seedy suburbs and finally, to the station. I would have had time for a crêpe suzette.

TECHNOLOGY FAILURE: It is not helpful when the seat reservations are not displayed on the little electronic screens until after everyone has boarded and found a seat. When the little screens above 80% of the seats then change from “available” to “reserved”, there ensues a grumpy game of musical chairs but accompanied by mutterings and grumblings rather than real music.

HISTORIC ARCHITECTURE. In the UK we have a fantastic number of very old churches which represent an amazing heritage of ancient, historic and beautiful architecture that we really take for granted. Likewise, many of the railway stations in the UK are fabulous buildings and I suspect many people forget to appreciate these chapels and cathedrals of travel. They may not be as ancient as most of the UK’s churches but next time you approach a station, stop for a few moments and take in the grandeur, elegance and/or quaintness of the outside. Sometimes these aesthetic qualities extend to the interiors of stations as well. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all stations. If you are walking towards Peterborough station, for example, don’t get too excited.

Huddersfield
Huddersfield Station where I happened to find myself this week. Looks more like a city hall or art gallery than a train station. 

Colin

Advertisements

WEEKLY CAR DIARY & HOW TO OCCUPY YOURSELF ON A LONG TRAIN JOURNEY

I had jobs on three days this week:-

Thursday: BMW X5 Xdrive 40e M Sport plug-in hybrid, Leicester to Kettering, Northants; second BMW X5 Xdrive 40e M Sport plug-in hybrid, Kettering to Leicester

Friday: Jaguar XF S (3 litre) Portfolio D Sportbrake and Range Rover 4.4 SDV8 Autobiography, Leicester to Rutland County Showground, Oakham, Rutland

Yes, that’s only two days. I had another job on Wednesday but ended up not driving a car or van. A group of us went by minibus to collect some cars and deliver them to somewhere nearer the equator (in Hampshire). However, my allocated car had damaged paintwork and wasn’t going anywhere so I had to head for home by train. Annoyingly, I hadn’t bothered to bring a book with me because on group jobs, when we are taken to and from a job by chase vehicle, there is always entertainment in the form of endless witty banter and heckling the driver of the chase car or minibus. It is amazing how we all still laugh at highly original quips such as “I wouldn’t have come this way” (when stuck in a traffic jam), “Are we nearly there yet?” (five minutes after starting the journey) and “So the brakes work then” (after coming to a standstill in overly sharpish fashion).

But on my unexpected three and a half hour train journey home on Wednesday there would be no verbal entertainment and I had no book (I love reading and it’s a good thing to do on trains).  However, I did have my other two favourite train journey pastimes to fall back on. These are: 1) enjoying the beautiful British countryside (and occasional interesting man-made landmark) from the vantage point of the train window and 2) applying my mind to the consideration of life’s important issues. The latter may be my version of mindfulness although I don’t really know what mindfulness is but it seems popular these days. The good thing with these two activities is that they can be enjoyed at the same time. Despite my gender disadvantage, even I can manage this bit of multi-tasking and, incredibly, I am also capable of simultaneously consuming sandwiches. So, as I gaze out of the train window munching a carefully crafted (by my own hand) tuna salad sarnie, I ponder such weighty questions as:-

  • How many words do the Inuit have for pesto?
  • Does Ray Mears have a house?
  • Why does the BBC’s One Show always start 2 minutes before its scheduled start time? (It does – always. Not that I actually care).
  • What is an Experian credit score and do I really need one?
  • What on earth is mindfulness?
  • How often does Ray Mears have a wash?
  • Did I close the front door properly?
  • Why do celebrities feel it imperative to give their kids stupid names?
  • Does anyone think that Marmite is, well, just sort of OK?
  • Will self-driving cars get road rage?
  • Has Ray Mears ever had a Big Mac and fries?
  • Is Judith Chalmers still orange?
  • Why do blondes dye their roots a darker colour?
  • Are we nearly there yet?
  • If you put Ray Mears and Bear Grylls together in the same room (or tent) would they scratch each other’s eyes out?
  • If you drink orange squash and milk will you really die? (This was a commonly held belief when I was a kid. I’m 53 and still haven’t dared to try it. I think about it a lot though.)
  • What does go through the mind of middle lane hoggers on the motorway?? Why do they think it’s the correct way to drive? Are they completely oblivious to the chaos they are causing as they bumble along in their own little world? They are probably pondering one or more of the questions above. But please, there is a time and a place – the place being a train, not the middle lane of the M1.

So you see, there is plenty to do in order to occupy yourself when on a train. And no, I don’t have an obsession with well-known TV wilderness expert, Ray Mears but when you’re staring at all that countryside, outdoorsy stuff sort of springs to mind.

For those missing more car content from this and my last post, here are a couple of blatantly gratuitous photos from my motoring week. One from a small classic car meet I went to on Tuesday evening in the sleepy town of Market Bosworth (of King Richard III infamy). The other from the Rutland County Showground where I took the Jaguar XF and Range Rover in preparation for this Sunday’s county show. Guess which one’s which.

IMG_20170530_184128
“Luke, I am your father”. Too good a photo opportunity to miss! My MKIV Sprite meets a long-lost relative which could be its dad. The MK1 “Frogeye” Sprite is cuddlier than Darth Vader though.

hdr
What a beast! This would have Top Gear’s Matt LeBlanc salivating. I’m not a tractor fanatic but I wouldn’t mind having a go in one of  these. In a large field. Well away from any other vehicle.
Colin

“YOU CAN’T GO TO THE TICKET OFFICE, YOU NEED A TICKET”

“You can’t go to the ticket office, you need a ticket.” ??!! Yes, a member of staff at Leeds railway station actually said that to me a couple of weeks ago. I had entered the station by the smaller south entrance to be confronted by a row of automatic ticket barriers and no obvious route to the ticket office. However, it seemed that I needed a ticket to get to the ticket office. Whatever next? Will we soon be needing a passport before we can go to the passport office to apply for a passport?

I thought about asking how much a ticket to the ticket office was and when was the next train to the ticket office due to leave. Was it a direct service or would it be stopping at the toilets, WH Smith and/or the Pumpkin Cafe? Where does the train leave from? Does Leeds have its very own platform nine and three quarters for this mystery train service?

I thought better of it but my mind raced on – imagine the announcements on this unique service:

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the 12.35 express service from Leeds station south entrance to the ticket office where we are due to arrive at 12.35 and 40 seconds. Bonjour mesdames et messieurs …….”

“As the train will not actually be leaving the station, we ask that passengers refrain from using the on board toilets for the entirety of the journey. If you are that desperate, you really should have gone before.”

“Due to the short platform length, would passengers wishing to alight at the passport photo booth please make their way to the door furthest to the front in the first carriage.”

Once I had got my runaway imagination in check, I just feebly and rather plaintively said: “But I need to go to the ticket office to buy a ticket.”

“Sorry, you can’t come through without a ticket.”

“How am I meant to buy a ticket?”

He adopted a smile and a look that shouted how stupid are you (if only he knew I was stupid enough to have once deep-fried my hand. I didn’t let on). Then he replied: “Over there,” nodding at the ticket machines behind me. Now I had noticed these machines when I first walked in but I had a particular reason for wanting to go to the ticket office.

“Can I buy a ticket from Chesterfield to Leicester over there?”. Ha! Got him. I knew the answer to this one. That wiped the smile from his face.

“Er, no….. But you still can’t come through. You’ll have to walk round to the main entrance.”

So off I traipsed round to the main entrance to find a very long queue at the ticket office and only two out of eight windows open. I waited for a bit but the queue moved painfully slowly and I knew I would miss the next train. The extra wait would virtually wipe out any benefit of using the ticket office. So why was this so important? Well, delivering cars and vans as a job entails frequent use of public transport and, since starting this work, I have been inducted into the inner circle of “split ticketers”. If you are already a black belt in tiramisu and a high priest or priestess of pilates, then learning the mystic art of splitting tickets is the next stage on your spiritual journey to a higher plane.

So what is it? Put simply, if you are going from A to C via B, then it may be cheaper to buy one ticket from A to B and another from B to C, rather than one through ticket from A to C. There is one rule to remember – the train must pass through AND stop at B but you do not have to get off or change trains at B (unless, of course, you can only get to C by changing at B). Here’s a real life example from my trip to Kent last week:

Ashford International to Leicester, standard single fare £106.70. Instead, buy a single from Ashford to Bedford (£46.50) and a ticket from Bedford to Leicester (£30.60) saving almost £30. To get from Ashford to Leicester you need to change at London St Pancras, ensuring that the St Pancras to Leicester train actually stops at Bedford.

The trick is knowing at which station (or stations!) on your journey to “split” your ticket and whether or not it is worthwhile at all.  There are websites (e.g. splitticketing.co.uk and trainsplit.com) that purport to work it out for you but I have found them pretty useless. In my experience, they just tell you to buy one advance ticket for the whole journey. The Tickety Split tool in the Travel section of MoneySavingExpert.com seemed better. It does actually provide a split but in my Ashford to Leicester example, it advises that you split at St Pancras to save about £7. I split tickets based on tips from my driving colleagues and my own research, playing with the National Rail website or app.

Of course, you can save money by buying a ticket in advance but those tickets are for specific trains so you have to be sure you will catch that particular train at the given time. When I’m delivering cars, there are too many potential delays to risk buying an advance ticket. If you really want to go for it, then you may be able to combine advance tickets and the concept of splitting. If you are successful in this, then you will have achieved the status of supreme master splitter. Your training will be complete, Grasshopper, and you can move on to conquer new heights of mysticism in life’s journey to spiritual enlightenment (tantric knitting or learning to put the wheelie bin out on Tuesdays without fail).

Back to my situation in Leeds. I finally gave up on the ticket office and reluctantly went over to the ticket machines where happily (so I initially thought), there was a different type of machine that allowed you to change the starting point for your journey. So, I duly requested a single ticket from Leeds to Chesterfield, a single from Chesterfield to Leicester, hit “Pay Now” and …. “Sorry we are unable to proceed with your request”. Grrrr. With time pressing I admitted defeat and just bought one through ticket from Leeds to Leicester. Train companies 1, Colin 0. Is this all an elaborate plot to hinder and frustrate people splitting tickets? Requiring people to have a ticket to get to the ticket office, manning the ticket office with a skeleton crew, installing new ticket machines that give you the false hope that you can buy a ticket for journey starting at another station?Just so you know, I get my travel expenses reimbursed when I’m doing my driving work so I do all this for the benefit of the company I drive for but it’s an interesting little challenge!

Colin

P.S. I have since found out that if you split at the Pumpkin Cafe, you can save 8 pence on the normal fare from Leeds station south entrance to the ticket office.