True stories from the Great Railway Disaster

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme; No 62: so you want to go the other way to Exeter?
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The Independent Online
SUSAN CHINN often travels from her home in north-west London to visit her mother in Exeter. She tends to go on a Friday evening and return late on Sunday. For many years she has bought a saver return for Topsham from Waterloo, which is right next to her work, on the 1730 South West Trains service to Exeter Central, from where it is a short walk to a bus to Topsham. For her return she would go by local train from Topsham to Exeter St David's and catch a direct Great Western Trains service to Paddington.

But the lines Ms Chinn used happen to be the first two to be privatised. South West Trains is now run by Stagecoach and Great Western by a management buy-out team, and she has been told there is now no return ticket valid on both routes.

This means she either has to travel back to Waterloo on the Sunday, which is slower and far from her home, or travel across London on Friday evenings and wait for the 1835 from Paddington, the first service on which a saver return is valid, but on which a booked seat is necessary. That means she has to buy a ticket in advance, and not only does the 1835 get to Exeter later than the Waterloo service but it also has no connection for Topsham. And the bus goes from near Exeter Central, not St David's, which means an extra bus journey between thetwo. A third option is to pay the full fare both ways, but that would be pounds 30 more. Says Ms Chinn: "I believe this government maintains that competition is `in the customer's interest'. Not in this one's it isn't."

The Independent on Sunday's Great British Rail Disaster by Christian Wolmar, which includes 60 items from this column, is to be published in late May by Ian Allan at pounds 5.99.

Readers can obtain advance copies of the book for pounds 4.99 by sending a cheque or postal order, or a Visa/Access authorisation, to the Great British Railway Disaster, Ian Allan Ltd, Coombelands House, Coombelands Lane, Addlestone, Surrey, KT15 1HY.

Cheques will not be cashed until the books are dispatched, just after publication.