Train delays and shoddy rail service are holding back British business

Dominic Baliszewski
GDL Launches One-Week Rail Strike
Train delays and cancellations are the bane of commuters' existence (Source: Getty)

Trains in the UK are rubbish. Okay, this isn’t really a surprise announcement, but neither is the “we’re sorry to announce that your train is delayed” when it blares over the tannoy on a regular basis.

I’m sure this will fill many of you with the same sense of unbridled want-to-drive-a-tractor-through-the-ticket-office rage as it does to me.

Britain’s regional cities are amazingly vibrant hubs of creativity. I live in Cheltenham, run a business in Bristol, and regularly work in London. Anyone living outside the capital needs to be able to move between cities efficiently and in a cost-effective way. The problem is that train companies don’t seem to have got the memo.

Read more: Nearly 4m hours were lost to train delays last year

My real problem with train travel in the UK is that rail operators seem to obstinately refuse to acknowledge that passengers are customers, and have seemingly zero desire to make their prices remotely affordable, let alone offer a decent level of service.

UK trains are ludicrously expensive. I used to manage an agency in Bristol, and a major client was based in Norwich. Because there is no sensible route between the two cities, we’d often meet in London. The challenge with this? The cost of these journeys.

I worked out that I would save money by flying the entire team to Spain and back, putting them up in a hotel, compared to the return train fare. I recently checked the prices – return flights plus a night in Malaga from Bristol came to £110, while an anytime return train from Bristol to London was £218.

Want another example? Of course you do. Guess which is cheaper: two peak return tickets from Bristol to London, or renting a Maserati Quattroporte (with insurance and petrol) for the day to drive the same journey? And which would you rather choose?

What’s worse, UK trains are often late and unreliable. A few weeks ago, I travelled into the Bristol office from Cheltenham. Now my UK geography isn’t great, but I’m 99 per cent sure that Wales isn’t between these two places.

That certainly didn’t stop CrossCountry unexpectedly diverting via Wales for this journey. They knew before I got on the train that this was going to happen, but didn’t see fit to tell me.

At least I managed to get compensation afterwards. It was simple – it only took three failed attempts to use their broken online form, a tweet, two emails, and another form. I’m now promised to receive a refund of… £2.50.

Read more: Government role in running railways to be eclipsed under proposed shakeup

I’m not asking for the moon on a stick, just some basic level of service. Like perhaps report accurate train times – not just the first and last station, but every station en route, or offer advanced fares that can be somewhat flexible (business travellers need flexibility, but still don’t want to pay £220 for tickets on the day). Also, while I’m writing my wish list, perhaps arrange refunds automatically.

Lastly, and I know I’m just being delusional now, could you be a little nicer to us? We’re paying with our money and, often, inconvenienced time.

So I have a plea. UK train operators, please remember that you are providing an essential part of our national infrastructure. You’re vital to the growth of British business, and your passengers are all paying customers.

Until that happens, I’ve got a client meeting to arrange in London – so I’m off to book some flights.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.