The worst train company in Britain?

20 September 2010

It all started off so well. After my lease expired on my old London flat, I moved back home for six weeks to save me £800 in rent while I found my feet in my new job. So far, so good.

What I didn’t bargain for was the wholly hateful commute into central London each day. I’m unfortunate enough to live on the National Express East Anglia route to Cambridge, which is possibly one of the worst lines to live on. On a good day, it takes a solid hour from my parents’ home to Liverpool Street. And that’s on a good day.

It’s not even like it was cheap. For a monthly season ticket, it cost me a shade under £400, which for a recent graduate in a first job, is no easy pill to swallow. But I got on with it, leaving home at 7.15 and not getting home until 12 hours later.

For six weeks I put up with trains being cut from eight carriages (therefore having to sit on the floor) arguing with ticket collectors about sitting in first class with a standard ticket (mostly me arguing that “I paid for a seat, not to sit on the floor or cattle class”), the trains suddenly cancelled with no explanation and being ridiculously slow. The London Liverpool Street-Cambridge route is a two-line track so if one train is stuck, the rest just line up bumper to bumper behind it until we could all walk home quicker.

But the fact that each journey was cramped, late and dirty falls by the wayside with one horror journey about two weeks ago - two days before I was due to move into my new flat.

One morning, when the rain rivalled that of a monsoon, I arrived at the station for my usual train at around 07.45. The platform was packed on both sides – a bad omen. It transpired that every train to both London and Cambridge was cancelled because of a broken rail.

I eventually got on a train to Cambridge, thinking I could transfer to the King’s Cross branch. Big error – we got two minutes up the road and then stopped for an hour outside a station. Eventually, the train turned round and went back to London, which left several hundred disgruntled passengers who couldn’t get to Cambridge. At least it went back to London though, meaning I would get to work – although not before stopping at every single station in Essex. I later found out that between 07.30 and 10.00 TWO trains had run from Cambridge to London. It was the travellers to Stansted Airport I felt the most sorry for. At least I just had work to be late for, some inevitably missed their flights.

Suffice to say, I made it into work at 11am, over an hour and a half late, and immediately applied for (paltry) compensation. I received a train voucher (so I’m forced to use it on National Express again) a few days ago for a mere £8, half of my return ticket price, as compensation, which I suppose I can only be grateful for.

I’ve never found other train companies to be quite as bad as National Express East Anglia, although no one has a good word to say about First Capital Connect. Do you think you’ve had a nightmare train journey to trump mine? Let me know below.