If railways had existed in the 14th century, surely Dante would have reserved one of the Circles of Hell in his Inferno for train passengers condemned to suffer endless rounds of weekend engineering works.
In this recurring nightmare, victims would spend aeons waiting in the cold, only to be jammed on to old, rattly buses for a seemingly endless journey. Ultimately they would be dumped not at their destination but simply another station along the line, to wait for another train.
These days European legislation obliges airlines to offer decent compensation to passengers subject to delays of three hours or more. Not so the hapless rail passenger. How his heart must sink as he reaches the station forecourt only to find that his transport of delight has been transformed into the dreaded "replacement bus service". Unsurprisingly Passenger Focus reports it is travellers' "No 1 dislike".
Though there are some good bargains to be had for those able to book some time in advance, in general UK rail passengers face the highest fares in Europe for a service that is far from being either the fastest or the best.
They have just suffered another annual round of above-inflation fare rises. And, to add insult to injury, those who are also taxpayers are now obliged to find at least £50 million, the sum wasted on the botched West Coast Main Line bidding process.
Between Good Friday on March 29 and Easter Monday, Scots are expected to make 600,000 rail journeys. For the many thousands heading south across the Border, delays are inevitable. Virgin passengers on the west coast service will be obliged to travel as far as Carlisle by bus, while those heading the opposite way face a 180-mile bus journey from Preston to Glasgow. Those trying to avoid this situation by going via the east coast also face delays because of engineering. In addition, there will be replacement buses between Glasgow Central and both Barrhead and East Kilbride.
West coast passengers face an eight-hour journey, which is almost double the normal time. And yet even those who have paid a premium to travel first class will receive no compensation.
Passengers understand the need for engineering work and it is understandable that train operators schedule such work for weekends to avoid disrupting commuters but people should pay for what they get. If that is a long bus journey, rather than being whooshed through the countryside aboard a gleaming Pendolino, fares should be adjusted accordingly. That would have the additional advantage of encouraging train operating companies to restrict bus use to a minimum.
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