True stories from the Great Railway Disaster

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme No 6: so you want to go abroad?
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The Independent Online
Today, thanks to the Channel Tunnel, you can travel by train from London to Paris and Brussels and, by changing trains, to the rest of

Europe. Mr Alan Harrison

of Walsall went to Walsall station to see if he could book a journey to Italy. Of course he couldn't.

He was directed to Birmingham New Street, the busiest station outside London, which by now would have had a direct service to Paris, if the Channel Tunnel had opened on time. He phoned New Street, only to be told that they could not deal with international inquiries on the telephone. Mr Harrison comments: "The station is the British equivalent of Lyon Perrache or Milano Centrale, yet is not equipped to deal with a simple telephone

enquiry about international trains."

He feels that despite the Channel Tunnel, railway travel to the continent has got more rather than less difficult. "As recently as 1981, I was able to get a through ticket from Walsall to Paris, while a friend remembers his father being able to ask for two and two halves, return from Walsall to Naples!". He recalls that BR used to publish a continental timetable: "I have not seen it for several years. Do they want us to go by train?"

A BR spokesman confirmed that it stopped publishing a continental timetable in 1988 and has no plans to start issuing one again. Mr Harrison says that the staff at New Street station dealt with his enquiry "very efficiently", but confirmed that their phone "had been taken out in an economy drive".