Last weekend we went to the RAF Leuchars airshow. As with many RAF bases, Leuchars isn’t located in an ideal location for getting 45,000 people to and from, resulting in traffic chaos (which was made worse this year by one of their “congestion busting” park and ride facilities being unavailable due to the heavy overnight rain). Not wanting our day to be spoiled by the inevitable hours of sitting in the car, we parked in Dundee and got the train. Buying our tickets was easy and a last minute change of platform meant we caught the train we had hoped to. To get to the train we had to pass our tickets through the electronic barriers. During the short journey to Leuchars (less than 15 minutes) we had our tickets checked by the conductor. On arrival at Leuchars we were slightly surprised to have our tickets checked again! When asked why the extra check, the response was “to make sure everyone has a ticket”.

On our return to the station at the end of the day, we joined a queue and after a few minutes boarded a train. A short journey to Dundee was followed by an easy departure from the platform with open barriers – apparently due to the number of people and the potential for crushing.

This week we were in London and used the Heathrow Express to get from Heathrow to Paddington. It’s a great service, but does seem to be very expensive. After buying our tickets we descended to the platform, boarded a train and were on our way – all without ever needing to show our tickets (this seems to be part of their business model as they advertise the ability to buy tickets on board). Our tickets were checked during the short journey but on arrival at Paddington we just walked straight off the platform without hindrance from the usual electronic barriers. Our return featured no ticket check, but then the train was virtually full and the conductor may simply have run our of time to get to our carriage.

So, basically, during our 4 journeys we only needed tickets on 2 of them!

The UK railway system is a real mess, with differing standards and policies applying across the country. It’s expensive and at peak times overcrowded. Often the carriages are untidy and rubbish facilities are too small and poorly signed resulting in an accumulation of debris. It’s hard not to feel that the great legacy of UK railway development and engineering is being let down by the current state of affairs.

After being named as the most expensive in europe several companies reaffirmed their commitment to “crack down on those travelling without tickets”. Given our recent experiences they seem to have a long way to go and the lack of consistency will probably mean that progress is slow and uneven. Maybe when more people have tickets they will be able to reduce prices – though I suspect this won’t be the case 🙁