No 26: So you want to go to Etchingham?

True stories from the Great Railway Disaster; A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme
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The Independent Online
BRENDAN HUGHES often travels between Brussels, where he lives, and his parents' home in Etchingham, East Sussex. He takes the Eurostar to Waterloo International, where he transfers to Waterloo East and catches the Hastings train toEtchingham.

On a recent occasion Mr Hughes, arriving in Waterloo International at 9pm, crossed to the main concourse and looked at the timetables to check when the Hastings train was departing. Strangely, when he checked under E, Etchingham was missing.

The ticket office clerk explained that, due to privatisation of the lines, he could not reach Etchingham from Waterloo, but would have to go to Victoria via Clapham Junction and take a train from there. At Victoria the only Hastings train was via Gatwick, totally out of his way, and the Tunbridge Wells trains appeared only to run at peak times. Instead Mr Hughes took a train for Redhill - via Clapham Junction - and changed there for Tonbridge. He finally arrived at Etchingham after changing once more at Tunbridge Wells. It had taken two-and-a-half hours to make a journey that normally takes 45 minutes.

On his return journey, Mr Hughes was not taking any chances. He phoned Tonbridge, where he learnt that the London-Hastings line was operating normally. He also learnt the explanation for his earlier tour of the suburban rail network. While most trains through Waterloo East are run by South Eastern Trains, those from the main Waterloo station are run by South West Trains. Each is unable or unwilling to sell tickets for its rival. Customers for Waterloo East services must use a special booth on the concourse - but Mr Hughes went to the wrong one, which directed him on his merry-go-round.

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