Why Do Railways Suck?

"The railways have always been a disaster area. If the classic film The Railway Children had been a bit more accurate, Bernard Cribbins would have been a grumpy old porter whose only line would have been to tell the kids to piss off "

John O'Farrell

This first essay was produced in early 1999, and was a collection of my thoughts at the time. On reflection I realise why I went to study transport at university. It is a collection of tales about the distress I have suffered and the chronic inneficiency that I have witnessed, Mainly in my own area of West Yorkshire. It seems to me that the customer relations ethic of GNER (Greta North Eastern Railways) and Arriva trains leaves something to be desired.

I am advising you to drive a car, not because it is the best option for society, but that it is probably the best option for you.

It is basically the rantings of the last sad and angry man, and provides only anecdotal evidence. If you want to add to it email me at steve_jm_kidd@yahoo.co.uk

It is only Chapter One!


  1. Map - Of the stations mentioned in the text
  2. Why Do Railways Suck? - Introduction
  3. Safety First?! - Why safety is not safe
  4. All Bets are off - Lying and cheating from a station master
  5. All Bikes are off - Pointless unpleasantry from rail guard
  6. Preventative Engineering - Simple engineering solutions
  7. Chris Guy - Fat controller disenfranchises customer and scares kids
  8. For Bravery above and Beyond - How there is little benefit in being brave and helpful
  9. Peculiar Pricing - An example of short run marginal cost pricing
  10. A Grand Day Out - An example of a crap railway service
  11. Policing priorities - An example of transport police inefficiency
  12. What's Next - Why I continue to use railways
  13. The Return of Chris Guy - The fat controller wins again
  14. The Passengers' Charter - How it is not available
  15. Arriva (Derci) - West Yorkshires local services in tatters
  16. Book a bike and you can't put it on - GNER's deny customers the service they should be obliged to provide
  17. Don't book a bike and you can't put it on - GNER's deny customers the service they should be obliged to provide
  18. Get a Car - Why I do not continue to use railways

The local railway network around Pontefract showing mentioned stations (not to scale)

Why Do Railways Suck?

Inherently they don't, and given it's average intelligence a dead amoeba could run a half decent service better than the muppets at Arriva, LNER or Wakefield Met

There are many people who work and govern the railway system in this country who are conscientious. efficient and eager to promote the comfort and satisfaction of passengers, -passengers on whom their jobs depend. Passengers who have schedules to keep and feelings to respect. It is unfortunate that these pleasant members of staff are so noticeable. The driver who starts his messages with 'This is your captain speaking', the guard who says "Don't worry. that's OK, you're only going to the next stop." I want to shake the hands of these people and say well done. I only wish that these good people were the ones who run the railway system. Unfortunately it seems they are not...

What follows is an individual's account detailing incidents which highlight failure within the system. All stories are true and. hopefully, unexaggerated (Well OK. there may be the odd stretcher. but only for literary embellishment). Admittedly they provide anecdotal evidence. nevertheless as they all happened to one person, (Yours truly). I hope I am not accused of (rotten) cherry-picking the few occasions on which the system has failed. I would imagine that far from being unique. the catalogue of incompetence and downright hostility which I have encountered is symptomatic of a lame organisation.

Safety First?!

My son and I travelled to Wakefield every week to go to his music lesson. We did this for a year during the school terms. occasionally taking the car. but more often taking my bike to Featherstone train station. catching the train the nine miles to Wakefield and cycling to the music lesson. Out of the thirty times we took the train. twice the return train was cancelled. This was highly inconvenient for us as individuals as, because we had a bike, we were unable to avail ourselves of the taxis provided by the railway company. We were therefore delayed by an hour or longer, or had to cycle all the way back. despite having purchased tickets. There is a deeper problem with these incidents than our delay. that being the safety aspect of what occurred coupled with the cost and inconvenience to all concerned.

The reason one train didn't run was that one of the doors wasn't opening. There are eight doors on the trains, and one wasn't opening, so they stopped the train. On asking the guard why that should stop the train he quipped 'Health and Safety'. Now forgive me for thinking but the way I understand it is in this country it is approximately four times safer to travel by train as by car. Not only that but trains kill very few non-passengers, yet cars account for thousands of non user death every year.

So.. Because one door in eight doesn't open. the unfortunate (and unwilling) passengers are put into fifteen taxis, quadrupling their chance of injury and death. providing a menace to everybody along their routes. and disenchanting them so much that some of them are driven to saying they'll never use the railways again. Sorry. fourteen taxis. My six year old son and I are still left at Wakefield Westgate literally begging to be given a measly cup of tea which comes in a polystyrene cup and tastes like cat's piss.

I haven't finished on this yet. On another occasion the train was cancelled because the heating wasn't working. I'd had experience of train cancellations from Westgate, so I was quicker to talk to every single passenger. Each one said they would rather spend the ten minute journey on the 'cold' train then be shepherded into taxis. They actually spent more time outside, in the cold waiting for the taxis to arrive, then some of them would hove taken to get home on the train!

So.. Because the heaters don't work the unfortunate (and unwilling) passengers are put into fourteen taxis. quadrupling their chance of injury and death. providing a menace to everybody along their routes, and disenchanting them so much that some of them are driven to saying they'll definitely never use the railways again. Sorry, thirteen taxis. My seven year old son and I cycled home.

All Bets are Off

Stupidly I decided to take one of my children to Wakefield from Pontefract Tanshelf. The splendid tannoy system announced our train would be arriving and everything was hunky dory. Apart from the train not coming. The stupid company put in stupid tannoys which sound stupid and give pointless. and misleading, stupid announcements.

Everything being equally stupid. I got in my car (Which would have been more sensible in the first place), And went to Wakefield Westgate to complain. Of course the station manager accepted no responsibility whatsoever, so, dissatisfied, I made my way to pick up my daughter.

-"Where are you going?" I was asked - The fat bastard was actually trying to prevent me from picking up my daughter. My lovely three year old Julia who I had ensconced in the first class waiting room.

I told him I was going to the waiting room to get somebody and he insisted there WAS nobody in it. We bet a fiver on the issue and shook hands. I revealed my daughter (with what must have been a theatrical flourish), and he didn't pay up. The slimy git welched on a bet of just five pounds. You can't miss him. he wears a hat and his creepy crawly hole is just on the left as you walk to the platform. If you want a bet go and see William Hills or Joe Corals. They at least have some integrity.

All Bikes are Off

Believe it or not. I decided to take my son and a friend to Lightwater Valley by train. Despite entailing a ten mile cycle ride from Harrogate or somewhere. I thought it was the right thing to do. When the train arrived at Monkhill, Pontefract, we were refused permission to board the practically empty train with our (two) bikes on the pretext that the train might fill up at Castleford. I volunteered that if there was a problem at Castleford we would move them off. No Dice! Making a mental note never to-use the railways again. we cycled back home, got in the car and had a lovely trip to Lightwater Valley.

Preventative Engineering

Why are the railways so non user friendly? The simple expedient of allowing people to cross railway lines at track level at some stations would make huge savings in footbridge/subway building and maintenance, but more importantly improve access and convenience to many users. As far as I can see the bridge at Monkhill is a deterrent to anybody with a bike. pram or pushchair alighting from Leeds, and is physically impossible for a wheelchair to negotiate. At Woodlesford the track crossing is simple. convenient and safe, (and the dead bodies only need scraping off the tracks fortnightly).

Woe betide the poor parent who attempts to take a pushchair to Leeds Station. Only a few years ago the stepped subways there were replaced at enormous expense with.. Stepped subways. I have not timed how long it takes for to collar a member of staff to take one via the elevators, but I would guess that a person boarding and alighting at platform nine would take at least twenty minutes out of their day and ten minutes of staff time if they used the elevators. Why couldn't a ramp have been installed during the restructuring? Why at least can't a small portion of the steps be 'filled in' to provide a steep but smooth egress for wheeled users?

Once again ' Health and Safety' rears it's beaurocratic catch-all head, but what do we really want; customers who have an option to cross a railway line which is probably far less dangerous than the road outside their house, or a system which cannot be used by those who need it thus diverting them into motor cars?

Chris Guy

Silly me! I thought taking my daughters to Bolton Abbey on the bike and trains would have been a good idea. We had a flat tyre returning to Ilkley but I suppose there was nothing I could do about that. On arriving at Leeds I asked for the Pontefract train and was directed to the middle platform to catch the train to Wakefield and change for Monkhill. I duly carried my bike and two girls underneath the famous stepped subway and emerged to see an Inter-City express.

I know the rules governing bike travel on these things (Only two bikes on the train. must be booked in advance. three quid per journey), but it was late, my journey on this train was short, there was enough space in the guard's van to pole vault, there were only two people in the first two carriages and I had, after all, been directed to this train from the other side of the station. I asked if I could put my bike on.


I said "it's a pushchair, please let me get my Kids home."


I consider myself a kind. thoughtful, loving person,. undiplomatic sometimes. unintentionally threatening maybe. but not bad. This time, however, I flipped and insulted the female guard and her male counterpart. I used epithets and threats I regret. but for God's sake. I only wanted to put my bike in an empty guard's van for seven minutes. It wouldn't have hurt anybody and could have greatly helped me and my family. I volunteered to pay. "No". I then said "hang it" (or words to that effect) and put my bike and two kids on the train anyway, in the compartment at the front. Nobody on the train could even see me.

The Station Manager, Chris Guy, arrived and told me to get off. The train was now delayed. The transport police arrived. After talking to me for a few minutes the cop got off the train and said to Mr Guy.

"You can get him off yourself. I can't do anything about it".

The quick thinking Mr Guy then pointed out to the officer that I was standing at the end of a first class carriage and I only had a second class ticket. In retrospect I should have put my children in the bog and moved down to second class, or pointed out that Mr Guy was merely an employee of Regional Railways, and GNER was not his business, but in stressful situations people often behave neither logically or well. The cop, somewhat against his better judgement was forced to tell me to get off. I took my bike off. stood in front of Mr. Guy, said "You hold this" and helped it fall on him. I was handcuffed in front of my distressed children and taken away from them. The Inter-city express to London was delayed by eighteen minutes. I had bruises on my wrist for six months. For my heinous crime I was not charged and went home.

I do not dispute I done wrong things. but really..

For Bravery Above and Beyond..

For once in my life I did the sensible thing. I didn't take the train into Leeds. Instead I drove my two nephews to the station there in order to put them on the train to London. We parked in the car park and got out to hear a commotion. A member of station staff was shouting "STOP THAT MAN".

'That man', inspired by the thrill of it all. was hotfooting it away from the station post haste. Without thinking I did as the member of staff requested. and gave chase. How I admired those valuable customers who so politely stepped aside to let us both through. I eventually caught the man. held him long enough for the transport police to arrive. He struck me and wriggled free. but he was soon apprehended.

How I was feted by the station authorities and Transport Police. Not. It was only after I wrote to regional railways, the transport police and the station that I was sent £20 worth of railway vouchers. and an acknowledgement of the incident. I would have preferred a hand shake and a "Thank you". Even then the transport police said they had thanked me. What Bollocks. Next time I know that to do when a station staff member pleads for help. Step to one side like a good customer.

Peculiar pricing

My aforementioned two nephews could have had to pay £45.50 to go one way to London. For said nephews to take the same trip accompanied by me, my two sons. my two daughters and my black. flea ridden, worm infested mongrel on a return journey to the capital it was £45.85. We all went to see Buckingham Palace for 35 pence. Just an observation.

A Grand Day Out

I've included this précis of our fabulously comprehensive railway service to York for the benefit of anyone who seeks (and at the time of writing would fail) to find the name Pontefract on any Timetable at York Station. Don't be late for your return journey!!

Pontefract depart10:0914:0922:19
York arrive10:4214:422:53
York depart11:1015:13
Pontefract arrive11:4115:44

Policing Priorities

Reading this you may think I use the trains a lot. This is not true. I probably average one return journey a month (Even I'm not naive enough to think a journey locally isn't anything other than a risky adventure with only limited chances of success and should therefore not be relied upon).

Monkhill station is occasionally my embarkation point, and at a rough guess I have parked my car there ten times. I was put off parking there after a train trip when my car's window was smashed, nevertheless, this Christmas, I took my Kids shopping to Leeds from Monkhill. I parked, and then parked again to be in site of the video surveillance camera. On returning to Monkhill I looked out of the train window and remarked to the Kids that at least my car hadn't been smashed into. It was inevitable wasn't it? On crossing the stupid footbridge, to my dismay I saw that my car and the two others there all had bricks through their windows. I reported the incidents immediately and waited at the site for 45 minutes watching the smashed-in cars. I had four kids, the police never came, it was cold, we went home dejected and angry.

As I drove I couldn't help musing over the incident when my family and I had just unwrapped fish and chips at the old, deserted, Burton Salmon station platform site. It is a favourite haunt of train watchers as the platform, set back forty yards from the track surveys a broad curve of four lines carrying frequent services between York and Sheffield and points beyond. It is more dangerous watching trains on telly.

As we shared our chips out we were impressed to see a police vehicle doing at least sixty down the road and over the bridge which runs the other side of the tracks there. Siren blaring and light flashing it doubled back towards us and screeched to a halt by us. We had been there for five minutes and I was threatened with arrest, told I was a bad parent and that my kids were in danger.

We took our chips and went and sat by the A1.

PS. On three subsequent visits to Monkhill station there has always been a pile of smashed glass on the car park. Are these places just kept in an untidy and dangerous condition, or is there a genuine failing on the part of the railway authorities to address a persistent problem and inform it's customers? To this day I haven't been informed. despite asking, as to the state of the Video surveillance during these incidents.

PPS. On re-reading the above. I thought it only fair to make enquiries about the state of the Video Camera and the rate of break-ins at the car park. I was polite and open. but shocked when PC 2089S of the transport police told me it was "None of my Business". Don't forget. if you want to use the train and park your car at the station. and you want to know if it will be safe, it's none of your business.

What's Next

Ask me why I will continue to use trains.

Because they are safe. comfortable and efficient in terms of consumption and time. When I ride on a train I can talk to my family, read a paper or look at the view. I am unlikely to kill anybody and am safer myself. Because it is the right thing to do.

It is not just the right thing for me to do. It is, when faced with the car alternative, the right thing for everybody to do. I can't blame people who don't. In each of the incidents described above I can imagine how simple measures, be they an engineering solution, a logical interpretation of safety requirements, or just a smidgen of human understanding, could do so much to improve services.

There is no percentage in buck passing. Transport Police Railtrack, Regional Railways, GNER, Drivers, Guards and Managers are all inextricably bound, not only in the public's perception, but also by a common goal. to get bums on seats and keep them there.

The failure of any part of this system reflects badly on the whole set up. I could implore that people who are in charge of railways should love railways and people who work on, or with, railways should take as much responsibility as they dare in achieving their passengers' desires.

After all whoever heard of anybody losing their job for keeping the customer satisfied at no cost in efficiency?

That was not the end, naturally. It seems to be a never ending story

Further tales

The Return of Chris Guy

You must think I never learn. You're right: At least I hope my constant inability to understand the rudimentary principles of common sense regarding railways (i.e. don't use 'em) will illustrate and reinforce your determination to steer clear of them.

Anyway. once again I found myself on Leeds Station Platform with my youngest on my bike (The mantle of train trouble has been handed down my children). We had twenty minutes before our train to Monkhill departed. so I rode up to the end of the empty platform to watch an express depart, five minutes before ours. As it pulled out at 3.05 P.M. a station person came striding up the platform towards us as I stood. I didn't record his conversation. but I thought to myself. 'Stay calm. you've been down this road before' When he had finished telling me about riding bikes on station platforms (and may I assure you that many a person would have decked him there and then) I said 'I'll take my child off his bike seat. we'll walk and don't talk to me like I'm a school kid. Asshole'

At this he starts blubbering some rubbish about calling the police. I was gobsmacked, Almost, and said 'Excuse me. I've got a train to catch' He stood in my way, I walked around him, and towards my train, and all the time he's striding along as fast as his little legs would carry him.

Now I admit, 'asshole' was probably the wrong word. Small, pathetic, pettifogging, obnoxious, cruel, ignorant, self important, weak, obsessive, vulgar and inconsiderate would all have been more appropriate, but if you don't know what mean by 'Asshole' you probably have not read this far anyway and more than likely have been dead since the 60's.

By this time we had arrived at my train where a gaggle of station staff formed a choir to sing 'Hail the Conquering Hero' I pointed out the obvious. That he had spoken to me, that I did as he asked. I had three children to pick up from school. I had my ticket and my train was due, and could I get on it. "If you apologise"

"What For"

"err..OK get on then."

I then said directly to the little guy 'Have a nice day' and silently mouthed the word 'Asshole'. You know the little turd called the police who asked me off the train. Bearing in mind previous incidents. I obliged, asked to see the station manager, and was shown by the police to the top of the stairs where that fat slob Chris Guy was waiting.

It was not a look of triumph in his eye. more that of a schoolchild who has successfully framed and told on one of the happier kids. Another job well done by the staff at Leeds. My kids, their headmaster and I were an hour late all round. And the asshole is still an asshole.

The Passenger's Charter

Tanshelf station, heading to Wakefield at 9:30 one morning. I won't bore you with the story. One and a half hours later we get to Wakefield, after a bus had been sent for us. I ask to see their passengers charter. I am called a wanker by the guy who defaulted on the bet and told they don't have one. Three hundred yards away at Wakefield Library you can access the American Declaration of Independence, The Magna Carta and the treaty of Versailles, but on a Main Line Railway station run by Railtrack you can't even access the passengers charter. What bloody use is that?

Arriva (derci)

Since regional railways were taken over by Arriva things have got worse. You may point the finger at me and say I get what I deserve. I don't think I do. I apologise and admit to my mistakes, and I don't get paid for it by the taxpayer. Nevertheless between September 2000 and the present day (December 2001) our train service has been in absolute tatters, which is nothing to do with me, but everything to do with the money grabbing, sometimes patronising, often unpleasant, inefficient and lazy staff and organisations of our railway companies. Make no mistake, services have been cancelled en bloc, leaving the people of Pontefract, Castleford and Knottingley absolutely in the dark about the provision of trains to and from Leeds. Railtrack shares have been suspended and the bastards who ran it still are not bothered about a decent service, being concerned only about the money which unfortunate shareholders have been duped into investing, despite the most obvious evidence that the entire service is shite.

I used the rail service to Leeds for the first few months at Leeds University, but after it had taken me 5 hours to get home from Ilkley with my four kids (Ilkley is 25 miles away), and three trips from Leeds to Pontefract (12 miles) taking over three hours I had had enough. Arriva: What a shit service and what perfectly horrible people. Anyway, the twats have lost their franchise so I hope they all starve. But they won't.

Book a bike and you can't put it on

I wanted the take my Kids and their Mum to Edinburgh for the weekend. I booked the tickets on line on the thursday. I then went to Leeds station in order that I might book two bikes on the train. That cost me £8 'cos I lost my ticket and had to buy another. But I booked the two bikes.

On the Saturday morning I dropped the family off outside the station at York, drove off to find a parking space in nether York, got my bike off the car and cycled back to the station. I arrived on the platform where my family were waiting and said “We could have left half an hour later “(We were on the platform at 8:00 AM for the 8:35 train.

The train arrived on time and I went to the front where I expected the guard's van to be. I was alongside the drive car when it came to rest.

“Other end” somebody shouted to me, so, without wasting any time I shot off down the platform.

Within a few seconds and three carriages from the rear of the train I said to the young lady station attendant who was holding the table tennis bats ready to set the train off, half jokingly, “Don't set it off without me!” I should have known. “You can't put that bike on we are setting off now” I quickly explained that I would be 15 seconds, I'd been there half an hour, my family were at the front of the train waiting for me, that I had reservations for two bikes and please. I sometimes think these tossers take pleasure in winding you up. I put the bike in the nearest carriage and said I would move it too the guards van at Newcastle.

Upshot: Train delayed for twenty minutes, GNER steal my bike, then in an admission of their guilt send my bike up on a subsequent train and I have to pay lost property in Edinburgh three quid (Or was it 5) to get it. What a shit service and what perfectly horrible people. Anyway, the twats have lost their franchise so I hope they all starve. But they won't.

Don't book a bike and you can't put it on

On Saturday 30th January 2006 I wished to take the Virgin Trains 10:23 train from Wakefield Westgate to Bournemouth to stay a couple of days. Silly silly me. I took my bike and, on arriving some 25 minutes prior to departure asked for a ticket for an adult saver return and my bike. It was a GNER ticket monkey who said – Aye, you guessed it (read this with a suitably nerdy nasal jobsworth female drawl) “You must book a bicycle 24 hours in advance”. I offered to but two extra seats (at £85 each) - “No” . Four seats? - “No”

Am I missing something here? The stupid company wouldn't take £380 to take one bike to Bournemouth (at the time I didn't dispute the 24 hour rule, I just thought they might have at least enquired when the train arrived. If it had been full up I would have said it was a fair cop).

Now I am not blaming Virgin Trains here. The ticket office was GNER. When I called Virgin, the chap was amazed and told me that it was fine to buy a ticket and then book the bike at the shortest of notice. Here is a soundbite

GNER: What a shit service and what perfectly horrible people. Anyway, the twats have lost their franchise so I hope they all starve. But they won't.

Get a Car

For my second year at University it cost me £110 to buy a Fiat Panda, £100 tax, £200 insurance. It costs me £20 to fill it up (which I have done six times this term) and I take 45 minutes to do what was on average a 90 minute journey into Leeds, can come and go when I like, listen to the radio, go shopping, smell my own farts, and pedestrians and cyclists and stupid train users have to give way to me the vast majority of the time. I am less likely to have an accident in my total journey, and if I have one it is probably going to be far less serious. I can take my Kids to school and go fishing. So far I'm on £10 a journey to University (which puts all the recreational use down as free), which considering is eight pounds more than the train might not seem like good business. I get paid £25 an hour, and as the car saves me 90 minutes a day, just work it out.

Get a car. It's the best thing I've ever done in terms of addressing the efficiency of my personal transport. Be like the rail companies and the Government. Fuck the Environment and everybody else

22nd January 1999
Last Update : 30th December 2006