True stories from the Great Railway Disaster: No 24: let the plane take the strain?

A weekly chronicle of the absurdities caused by the Government's privatisation programme
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The Independent Online
TOM WILKIE and his family want to travel by train to Wurzburg in Germany, so last week he went to Waterloo railway station, the departure point for the Eurostar trains.

At the "Travelcentre" on the main concourse, they said: "Not us mate, we're British Rail," and directed him downstairs to the Eurostar ticket office.

At one of the counters marked "Eurostar and beyond" Dr Wilkie asked the price of a ticket to Wurzburg. Try as he might, the incredibly polite and helpful young man behind the counter could get neither of this two computers to give him any information about Wurzburg.

One computer belongs to Eurostar, he explained, and contains all the information about getting to Eurostar's destinations in Paris and Brussels. The other belongs to British Rail International, and contains all the information about other continental rail stations. They don't talk to each other.

Dr Wilkie's home computer is linked to a service called Compuserve, which contains detailed information about all British and continental train services, including arrival and departure times. The night before, Dr Wilkie had taken only a few seconds to consult the machine, which planned his route for him.

The route involves changing trains at Cologne. "That explains it," the man behind the counter said. "There is no connection to Eurostar." Dr Wilkie protested: "But we want to go to Brussels on Eurostar and then link up with the continental rail service from there." But no. Because the journey involves changing at Cologne, it is not a direct service and so tickets must be bought through British Rail International. Eurostar cannot access the service details or sell tickets because it is a rival company to British Rail International, and they are both about to be privatised.

"You'll have to go to their offices at Victoria railway station, sir," said the man behind the counter.

As a parting thought, Dr Wilkie enquired about taking a car on the train through the tunnel. "We're Eurostar, sir. That's Le Shuttle, which is Eurotunnel, and they're a different company."

As Dr Wilkie turned to leave, the man whispered: "Take the plane, sir. It's cheaper."