The Great Northern Rail Scam

Travelling around London is easy – try getting to Manchester though…

A couple of weeks ago, I started my new job with Aurora. It was simultaneously an exciting and sad day – I left my old job at Nova with a heavy heart, but was excited to get started with a new chapter in my career.

Having worked for all of my 5 year career so far in my home city of Liverpool, the biggest change to come was the commute – based in Central Manchester, I will be spending more of my days travelling than I have been used to. I know a few people who do this commute, however, and I decided it was worth doing.

This, I knew, was going to involve travelling by train on the Northern service between the two cities. I had heard things on the news over the years about this service when things had become truly awful, but not until I had to use it myself did I realise the scale of the issues facing this particular journey.

Day one – I bought a return ticket from the Trainline app. My closest station is Wavertree Technology Park, and I get off at Deansgate, so I (logically, I thought) bought a return ticket from Wavertree Tech to Deansgate for £19.60. What would you have done?

Well, apparently that isn’t the cheapest ticket to buy. Not that this is in any way reasonable, advertised, or remotely logical, but it is cheaper to buy a ticket from Liverpool Lime Street (two stops longer) to any Manchester station (potentially another two stops longer). This ticket is £16.10. And unless somebody told you about it, you wouldn’t know it was there. Lesson learned eh?

The two weeks of travelling on this line was painful. Not a single train left the station at its scheduled time from Manchester. Every day, a freight train goes through Oxford Road Station several minutes after the train to Liverpool is scheduled. Every day. Yet every day, Northern staff seem utterly baffled by this. It is maddening to know what is going to happen, yet be utterly powerless to stop it.

My last straw came yesterday. I left my house just after 6am and walked to Wavertree Tech, buying my £16.10 return ticket from Lime Street to Manchester (Any). I waited on the platform for the 6.34 train. It did not come – cancelled. Just like that. Next train to Manchester is announced on the tannoy seconds later…cancelled. Next announcement is a pre-recorded advertisement. “There’s never been a better time to switch to a season ticket…” REALLY NORTHERN? THERE’S NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME?

I sat on the platform wondering whether to just give up and work from home, given I wouldn’t be getting into Manchester for hours. But I was due to meet our CEO for the first time along with some members of the board, plus I had left my laptop charging on my desk. And I’d already bought my ticket. None of these thoughts mattered in the end, though, as when I went to try and get a refund for my now practically worthless ticket, I was told that, yes of course I could get a full refund on my £16.10 ticket…I just needed to pay the £10 admin charge to do so.

Infuriating. So I just had to sit there for hours and wait for a train that hadn’t been cancelled to take me to my workplace.

Arriving at work hours late is not the ideal impression to be giving your new bosses. Thankfully they were very kind and understanding, but this also meant I’d have to be staying late. I already don’t see my son before he wakes in the morning, now I won’t even see him before he goes to bed.

I stayed in work until 6.15 and made the short journey to Manchester Victoria, as this is now the only station sending trains to Liverpool. The 18.27 is delayed. By how long? And for what reason? It’s anybody’s guess. Another train turns up on our platform and just sits there. Then it leaves. Then another…and another. None of them the delayed 18.27 to Liverpool Lime Street. It is fully half an hour late to arrive.

As I am boarding the train, I hear the announcement on the platform.

“Leaving from Platform 4 the 18.27 Northern service to Liverpool Lime Street calling at…blah…blah…Wavertree Technology Park, Edge Hill and Liverpool Lime Street”. Oh good, at least it’s still stopping at Wavertree.

I take a seat. “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is the blah blah blah. We will be stopping at blah blah blah…Newton-le-Willows…but then we will be running an express service to Liverpool Lime Street. We will not be calling at…blah…blah…Wavertree Technology park…”

I’m not sure I’ve felt an anger like that in quite some time. The blinding, searing, furious rage at the injustice of it all. And then it hit me…this is the whole scam. This is the scam. This is it.

Why would it do that? Getting into Lime Street late will cost the company in fines…but what if it speeds through all of the stations and gets there quicker? Oh sure, everyone relying on it stopping at the agreed stops will be annoyed, but who cares? The fine will be reduced. Customers are entitled to a certain amount of compensation if a train is late – 25% of the ticket for 15-29 minutes, 50% for 30-59 minutes…but only to the stop that you bought the ticket for.

It’s a scam, ladies and gentlemen. Because of course I didn’t buy a ticket to Wavertree Technology Park did I? I bought the cheaper, but longer service to Lime Street. And I got to Lime Street within 29 mins of the scheduled arrival time.

So I’m now left stranded, horrendously late, and with few rights to claim any refund for the service. This is beyond scandalous.

I don’t know why I’m howling into the ether here. This isn’t London after all. No Londoners are affected by this, so it does not matter. Guardian journalists or BBC execs don’t experience any of this, so why would they report on it? Oh sure, soon, £89billion later, we may be able to get to London a few minutes faster and that will make us all joyful and happy.

I CAN ALREADY GET TO LONDON FAST ENOUGH YOU CRETINOUS OIKS, WHY ARE YOU SPENDING SO MUCH ON HS2 WHEN I CAN’T EVEN GET TO THE NEXT CITY OVER IN THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME???

This whole experience leads logical, rational people to logical, rational choices. I’m all for public transport and want to be greener. But I am now faced with the following choices.

I either spend £16.10 per day, to spend a minimum of 3 hours a day travelling on crowded, unreliable, useless trains, never knowing that I’ll even make it in to work or back home. I will almost never see my son or my soon to be born second child during the week and will have to wait until the weekend to see them like a single dad.

Or I take my diesel car, a car that I have, run and insure anyway, spend about £6-7 per day on fuel, park 10 minutes walk from work (roughly the same as the walk from Deansgate station) and pay £4 for all day parking? Sure, there’s a lot of traffic between Liverpool and Manchester, but this morning, I left my house at 6am and arrived at my office at 7.10am. This after having to pay for my parking online, setting up an account, adding payment details etc.

It’s a simple choice, no? How are we to become a greener, less polluting area of the country when this choice basically makes itself?

Northern Rail is a complete disgrace, but the infrastructure is just as bad. Why on earth is a 200 carriage freight train running through a busy commuter station at 5mph at 4.30 every afternoon? Why does the slightest delay in anything cause chaos like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings? Why, when I get to London, do I simply tap a bank card against a barrier, step on a train that’s basically there as soon as I reach a platform, get off and tap again, yet anything remotely as simple as that hasn’t even been thought about in the North of England?

This is a scam. And one in which I will no longer participate. Until this frightful situation is invested in, I’m afraid I shall be polluting the Warrington air with diesel fumes day in and day out. What a crying shame.

It’s a scandal, and one which needs urgent attention.