My wife and I arrived at Paddington railway station on Sunday lunchtime after a wet cold weekend in London. We were at the head of the queue entering the platform to board the train to Exeter. As I walked along the platform I counted three first class carriages out of a total of eight.
It was fortuitous that we were at the head of the queue so we managed to get a seat. By the time the train was ready to depart, every seat in our carriage was occupied with a few people standing between carriages. On leaving the train at Exeter I walked past the train trying to gauge how many people were in the three first class carriages. As far as I can tell there were four or five passengers in each coach.
I fully understand and appreciate that first class passengers have paid more and should expect a bit more comfort than the rest of us ordinary people. First class passengers can have their table at every seat, extra leg room and reclining seats but three coaches for 15 passengers! That smacks of incompetence, particularly when the rest of us are packed like sardines, with some passengers not even having a seat.
Assuming that companies conduct analyses of the way space is used on their trains, how can such an anomaly happen? Fragmenting the railways, and having different operators running the trains is supposed to create competition, and that should force companies to treat their passengers fairly and with more consideration. But we had no choice of which train company to use. Anyone travelling on a particular day at a certain time has to use the train available.
The analysis looked at three different kinds of commuter journeys to the "principle city" in the eight European countries: short commutes of between five and 16km, medium journeys of between 17 and 40km, and longer trips of between 41 and 80km. It found that in all three categories, "unrestricted day return" fares, which allow commuters to take any train they choose, were more expensive in Britain than any of the other countries examined.
Commuters making a journey in the medium band [in Britain] have to pay 59 per cent more than those in Switzerland, the second most expensive country in that category, while the fare is more than three times the cost of commuters making a similar trip in Spain.
In addition to cost, overcrowding and the bewildering price structure were also highlighted as a contributing factor to satisfaction rates among commuters dropping to below 30% on some routes. Don't panic; this article is not going down the enigma wrapped in mystery of the ticketing structure of rail travel in the UK.
What is so galling is that with some planning, more care and a dose of common sense, those of us travelling standard class could have been made more comfortable without affecting the comfort of the first class passengers.
The Rail Regulator should take companies to task in the way their travelling space is allocated. Also, we the Standard class rail users need to challenge train companies by complaining about the unfairness, stupidity and incompetence that allows such a ridiculous split in space allocation between first class and standard class train travel.