Getting to Leamington Spa

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Leamington Spa station: I finally got there!

Leamington Spa station: I finally got there!

I was travelling by train from our office in Leatherhead to Leamington Spa. Simple you might have thought. Not a bit of it. It turned into a long drawn out affair that has demonstrated the complexity of ticket buying, the confusion in the minds of railway staff and why people often end up with the wrong ticket.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Leamington Spa is an ideal place for a day out as readers will find out when I’ve finished writing the story. I have been distracted from completing it by the problems of buying a ticket and then, trying to use it. The National Railway website quoted me a return price of £34 return in the rush hour and about a tenner cheaper if I left after 9.15. OK, I thought, I’ll catch the earlier one but since I live on the Guildford side I thought I would see if I can get it cheaper since the train would go Leatherhead-Guildford-Reading- Leamington Spa. (The journey via London is more expensive and slower.) So I checked the fare from Guildford. Off peak the fare was £46.60. At the time I wanted to go it was £75 which, of course is £29 more expensive or getting on for double the price. But Guildford is 8 miles closer and I have to change trains there anyway. Was this right? I checked using the First Great Western and Cross Country Rail websites and got the same answers. Guess which ticket I bought?

So at 6.30 in the morning I bought the return ticket from the machine and, despite opting to buy the ticket via Banbury rather than London, the machine flashed at me that my ticket -an off peak day return – wasn’t valid until arrival after 10am in London. Was it trying to tell me something? After all off-peak meant the cheaper £24.50 ticket rather than the £34 didn’t it? Thinking I had pressed the wrong buttons, I started the process again to get the same result. On the train to Reading, I had no problems, largely because there was no checking of the tickets. At Reading though, I thought I’d better check. So when the train pulled in I checked with a customer service rep on the platform. Check with the train manager I was told. He’s the big guy in the shirt at the end of the train. On the way there I passed the driver who also told me to check. The train manger said no, the first I could take was the 9.41. That meant a wait of 90 minutes. Not wanted to cough up for an upgrade I went back to the excess fare desk and asked. Any train I was told but when I pointed out the fact the ticket said off peak day return, I was told to travel after 9am. Thoroughly confused, I asked to be let through to the ticket sales area, explaining why to the customer services rep there. Any train he said because you’re not going through London. But even he advised to check with the train manager since they make the final decision. The next train came in but no train manager was obvious so I jumped on just before it pulled out, deciding to risk my luck. When my ticket was checked, not a comment from the train manager. Everything was fine.

But after dealing with the problems of trying to get the best fare, finding out which train I was allowed to go on was just as irksome. Which? and Passenger Focus, the watchdog for rail travel, have regularly drawn attention to the minefield of train fares. To that I add that either the rules are so complex that even rail staff who deal with problems day in day out have difficulties in interpreting the rules or training by rail companies is patchy to say the least. For the day tripper, it is easy to see why a more expensive fare might accidentally be bought. To see more of our countries, train travel is a viable option particularly given fuel increases. Especially if you are travelling on your own. For a couple it is just about viable. For a family – unless you have a railcard or a good deal – the car probably wins. But with the frustration and doubt that I have encountered – and I count myself a fairly adept user of trains- it is time the train companies produced better train ticket parities and an easier to understand process.

Just as well then, that I had Leamington Spa to visit to make up for the hassle.

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