Taking the train to go away travelling seems a priori an excellent means of transport, whether on long distance as an alternative to taking the plane, to reach your airport or to get to your destination directly. The other alternative would be to drive and many people drop this option thinking the train is less stressful as they just have to sit back and relax instead of having to negotiate traffic jams. Well, think again because when you compare train and car, train travel is not as good as it seems.
For starters, whenever you go on holiday you are bound to have lots of luggage with you. The more people travelling together, the more luggage you will have. In the train, if your suitcase is too big, it won’t fit in the overhead rack and you will have to place it at the end of the carriage. This means that despite the usual announcement to keep all belongings with you, you are unable to do so. Anyone can pick your luggage at a stop and be gone with it with you none the wiser. It is not possible to keep an eye on your luggage if you can’t see it, especially if your seat is facing the other direction. If you are lucky, some trains have a luggage compartment in the middle of the carriage.
It’s not just the security aspect. Who likes having to drag suitcases up and down stairs when there are no lifts or block people on the escalators? Who likes having to rush from platform to platform when changing trains with luggage in tow? Have you ever tried taking the tube in London in rush hour with 2 big suitcases? Not an easy feat.
Compare this with travelling in a car. You put your big heavy suitcase in the boot or if you are a girl, you get your guy to do it. You drive to your destination or you get your fellow to drive and use the sat-nav. Once there, you take away your suitcase and that’s the end. No fear that someone may steal your bags, no need to haul your bags up and down stairs, escalators and across large stations.
There is the privacy aspect in trains. Some people may prefer to travel quietly, with no kids shouting next to them, no crying babies, no loud conversation on mobile phones. You may be able to get a quiet coach but they are not always quiet! And what will stop your neighbour from being smelly or dirty? What if you want to have an intimate smooch with your partner?
You may well be the noisy one in the train too. What if you like to sing while travelling or simply have to make several phone calls? Even in carriages that are not quiet zone, you would probably look out of place if you start singing loudly and having a few cans of beer with you might well get you kicked out. The train is not the best place to carry out business or discuss your private life. Your car is. And as long as you are not driving, you can consume as much alcohol as you want in your vehicle.
Can you really relax?How about comfort? Train travel is touted as comfortable and relaxing but apart from neighbours getting on your nerves or restricting your exuberant behaviour, you can’t really drop to the shop to get some chewing gums, light a cigarette or get off to stretch your legs unless you are ready to miss your train at a stop.
Not only can you do all that if you drive your own vehicle, but you can also take detours to take pictures, stop at places to visit briefly, pop in shops to buy travel materials or have a nice meal in a restaurant to really make your trip enjoyable.
Train tickets in the UK is known to be prohibitively expensive. If there is more than one of you travelling, then it might make more financial sense to get a car as the cost will be fix no matter how many of you travel.
You also have the option of travelling first-class but why would you want to pay a premium in order to be late just like the rest?
Travelling by car is often touted as harming the environment. But many trains run on diesel and most non-commuter routes – therefore those that holidaymakers will use – often see nearly empty trains running. The same is true off-peak. While trains are crammed full of commuters during the rush hour, some trains can become deserted at other hours. A car with only one person is indeed a waste of resources but the bigger your group, the more efficient it becomes, especially if you fill a bigger vehicle like a passenger minivan.
If decision-makers were serious about encouraging people to use the train instead of the car, they would start making it more affordable.
Timetables and routes
You can only travel where the train will take you and when it will take you. You have to adapt your schedule and route to theirs, not the other way. With a car, get total freedom of where you want to go and when. Travel at midnight if you want to.
Trains in the UK suffer from constant delays. All excuses are valid and the great British weather is a favourite excuse to blame. Every season is bad; just pick your excuse:
Too hot, too cold, especially with the snow, too windy, with leaves on tracks a favourite, and even frozen rain!
It is not uncommon to hear of horrific stories of people trapped in trains and more a year later. South West Trains has a bad reputation among commuters and Northern Rail in particular suffers from chronic delays.
Apart from the delays due to the seasons, you can expect acute discomfort that goes with it: too hot in summer or air-con not working, freezing in winter, heating not working or surprise surprise, air-con at full blast! Passengers have even experienced leaking carriages when it rains. As holidaymaker, you will unlikely experience the sardine-packed and sweltering carriages of the rush hour that commuters endure, unless you are one of them or you are mad enough to travel during these times.
Finally, it brings great pleasure to Network Rail, the not-for-profit body in charge of the rail infrastructure, to schedule engineering works during the holiday season such as Easter and Christmas in order to bring maximum disruption to passenger. Best bet – avoid train travel during those crucial times!
Refunds and complaints
If you think you can complain and get a refund for delays, you might be in for a disappointment. While refund forms and procedures are easy to find,each train operator has its own set of requirements in order to qualify for a refund. And these criteria are set in their favour. Some might require the delay to be at least 1 hr, others will claim that the train must be stopped between stations.
If you want to claim a refund or see if you are eligible, visit www.traindelays.co.uk or share your delays on www.trainrefunds.co.uk so others are aware of the quality of servive of train operators. Keeping quiet about it, even if you are not eligible for a refund won’t help anyone.
Let’s look at the other side of the coin here because car travel is not perfect either: deadly accidents, traffic jams, pollution, expensive fuel and car insurance, road tax. If you are hiring a car, you might get away with the last two though. However, as we saw, trains can be polluting as well and have their fair share of delays and deadly accidents due to mismanagements.
All this though is the price to pay to enjoy the benefits of travelling by car:
- freedom of travel at any time, anywhere
- Ease of use – no luggage handling