True stories from the Great Railway Disaster; A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the privatisation programme

No 20: so you want to book a seat on InterCity?
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The Independent Online
INTERCITY used to run most of Britain's long-distance train services and published a detailed guide. Now these services have been handed over to eight different train-operating companies in preparation for privatisation.

It used to be possible to book via a freephone number and tickets would be posted, or alternatively you could telephone major stations and reserve tickets to be collected. The InterCity name survives for advertising purposes but the organisation no longer exists and so neither does its joint service for selling tickets by telephone, as David Davies of Wakefield discovered.

The InterCity guide to services is still published but the "Rail Direct Telesales" page has disappeared. So has the list of major stations. Now, each operating company has its own booking system with different details and different arrangements such as opening hours and number of days allowed for delivery.

For example, Midland has a freephone number but does not allow collection from main stations and requires five days for delivery, while East Coast lists only its main stations, with different opening times, and says seven days must be allowed for delivery or tickets can be collected. Scotrail lists its main stations, but only for sleeper bookings (as those are the only trains to south of the border which it operates) and each has a different opening time (or you can collect, but not from Dundee). And so on, and on . . .