True stories from the Great Railway Disaster; No 19: so you want to buy a timetable?

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme
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The Independent Online
GRAHAM LARKBEY of Hornsey, north London, recently asked at Victoria station's ticket office for the free supplement which is always produced by BR to provide corrections and amendments to the main timetable.

The enquiry clerk shook his head: he could not supply one because the concession to sell timetables at Victoria - and at several other large stations - has been given to WH Smith. The problem for train operators such as Network SouthCentral at Victoria is that they have to buy timetables from the British Rail Board which will not provide them on sale or return. In the new commercial world of railways they dare not risk losing money by over-ordering. WH Smith is also supposed to hand out the free supplements, but Barry Doe, a railway consultant and timetable expert, points out that shops are not used to handing out free goods so the supplements are often not available to passengers.

Mr Larkbey also points out that it is now harder to get information from displays at railway stations.

He says: "Previously, when divisions of BR wanted to improve the advertising of services at their stations, they just stuck up a few more display boards. Now, every additional display board has to be agreed by Railtrack, the station landlords, and each one is liable to increase the amount of rent paid by the train operator to Railtrack."

Therefore there is a disincentive for operators to provide extra information.