I moan a lot about Southeastern trains, but I found yesterday a train firm that’s worse than them by a long shot. I went to visit a pal in Waltham Cross yesterday, taking a train from scruffy and horrible Hackney Downs station through more scruffy and horrible stations up to the bleak corner that is Waltham Cross station. The train itself had a garish carpet and was heated to a near-suffocating level on a sunny day, a bit like being in an old lady’s living room on wheels. Oyster card? Not on your nelly, for although the Hertfordshire town is the terminus for a clutch of London buses, the rail station sits defiantly outside the zones, without even a destination board to tell you if your train’s going to be late. If you don’t drive, places like this feel like the edge of the civilised world as London’s well-planned transport network peters out.
All this is down to National Express trains, which pocketed £3.10 from me for the journey, but without the courtesy of even checking my ticket. I may as well have not bothered. It’s the typical high fares-easy to avoid paying policy which is helping these firms get into a pickle – the opposite of the low fares-hard to avoid policy on London Overground, on which I’d travelled to Hackney. The trains are dirty and infrequent, the stations are gloomy and lack staff or helpful information, and the whole experience is just grim. At least Southeastern knows how to use mops and brooms.
In fact, National Express seems to be such a bunch of cheapskates, it even has a notice in each carriage telling you to text “dodger” to 60006 “if you believe a fellow customer is deliberately evading payment of their fare”. Yup, they’ve even got the brass neck to ask customers to do their job for them. Ironically, National Express is trying to avoid its own responsiblities, and is trying to get out of paying the socking great sums they’re supposed to pay the government to run the east coast mainline, having mistaken a public service for a licence to print money.
I did think about texting the names of National Express’s management to 60006, suggesting that they should cough up or hand their franchises back – but instead, peered out of the dirty windows and willed on the end of the journey. Liverpool Street couldn’t come soon enough.