This was the decision I made last month when I was booking an intercity return journey to Manchester on CrossCountry trains. My hesitation on choosing a ticket type came about because when I had made a similar journey in October 2015, I had been so traumatised by my experience, that had been forced to take desperate measures to upgrade myself to first class on both legs of the journey. 

No offence at all to my fellow travellers but being packed tightly in among a loud, drunken group of football supporters and an equally vocal tribe of families and small children, was not my idea of an ideal journey. It wasn’t just the company though; the carriages were littered with rubbish and there weren’t enough tatty, small seats available so people were crammed face to bottom in the aisles.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

After much deliberation, I decided to opt once again for the standard advance bookable ticket. After all, at least I would have a reserved aisle seat and surely, each service could not possibly be as disappointing. 

How wrong I was. First of all, on the outbound journey, my reserved seat was occupied so I was forced to seek an alternate and just hope that I could avoid being turfed out before reaching my destination. No conductor in sight so no one to ask.

On the return journey, it took me about 20 minutes to heave myself and bags through the carriage, squeezing my way past an infinite number of seats, legs and luggage. Again when I got to my seat, it was taken but luckily this time, the occupant was quick to move. Although it had not been double booked again, I quickly learnt that other passengers had not been so fortunate.

Half way through the journey, the conductor announced that there had been some problems with the reserved seat displays and that if we were sat in a seat, which was not allocated to us, then could we please move or he would shortly be making his way through the cabin to move passengers himself.

What a joke! Firstly that would involve the most complex game of chess ever.  Secondly there was less chance of getting a small hair pin down those aisles, with so many bags in the way and so many people standing, than him managing to get through each carriage to check tickets and sort out seating. Even Houdini himself would have found it near impossible. Although there was, not surprisingly, no sign of the conductor from this point, the only thing which miraculously did manage to make its way through, was the profit making refreshment trolley.

What rescued the journey from being another massive disappointment, was the spirit of my fellow passengers who were a welcome breath of fresh air despite being crammed into the carriage like sardines. Once again, I found myself surrounded by a large, albeit very lovely, group of football supporters who kindly helped me with my bags and on my table, a group of very different people but with a shared frustration at the tide of mediocrity we face on a daily basis with the standard of our train services.

What do you get for your money? 

Well in first class, you obviously get a confirmed reserved seat but are promised more comfort, complimentary refreshments and free wifi. In ‘cattle’ class however, you might just about get your seat if pre reserved but there’s no chance of any real comfort, zero refreshments unless purchased at ridiculously extortionate prices and you’re lucky to get a mobile signal en route never mind Internet access.

It’s a sad fact that some of the standards of our rail services have fallen over the years, first class or not. Prices keep increasing, there are frequent delays on many services and although Internet access is nowadays practically a basic commodity, wifi access is only for the privileged few. To avoid price hikes, customers are often forced to seek ways to save money as it can be cheaper to book from station to station using websites such as raileasytrainsplit.com than book straight from A to B. 

One comfort on my Cross Country train journey was that it could be worse and that I could be stuck on some equally backward 1970’s style, third world Arriva service. However when I looked up Cross Country trains in preparation for this article, I was interested to note that they are part of the Arriva group seemingly providing more than 1.5 billion passenger journeys every year. 

Laugh upon laugh, the Arriva group are actually owned by Deutsche Bahn but although of German heritage, services operate in a range of countries including Spain, Italy, Portugal and Poland but notably not Germany itself who proudly boast a highly efficient, popular and profitable rail network. Least said, point made.

There’s going to be a price hike

For those who take the train

But even when we’re paying more

Some things will never change.

You’ll still be waiting on the platform

For the 16.24

Drinking your body weight in coffee

While you wait an hour more.

Then when you finally board the train

You’ll be lucky to find a seat

And even with the windows open

You’ll be flagging in the heat.

There’ll be people standing up

And there’ll be others on the floor

So you’ll almost miss your stop

Because you can’t get out the door.

But don’t worry if you’re hungry

Or in need of a drink or two

The profit making trolley

Will always make it through.

If you need to use the wifi

Then you’ll have to pay a fee

Unless you travel first class

Then you might just get it free.

So if I want to make a journey

Then I’ll always take the car

Because although I’d rather not

It’s still the best by far.

 

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