Tuesday, 8 January 2008

No Stars for Eurostar

Eurostar promises you all kinds of good things about its futuristic new terminal at St Pancras - the only railway station in Britain to boast a champagne bar instead of the obligatory stale sandwiches and cardboard coffee. But while the 'extras' delight, one aspect of the service is noticeably missing.

One of the worst things about the old terminal at Waterloo was the crazoid xray machines you had to lift your bag one metre off the ground to reach. These were normally manned by strapping security-guard types who would refuse, on grounds of 'health and safety', to help you lift your suitcase.

Their unequivocal stance created quite a few problems for me on one occasion when, due to a mystery illness contracted on holiday, I was too weak to manage feats of weight-lifting. The guy in question, I recall, told me rudely to get a move on and put my bag through and, when I asked for assistance, started shouting I wasn't his personal slave.

On insisting, as best I could, that lifting the thing was IMPOSSIBLE for me at that time one of his colleagues took pity on me (by now in the midst of a crying fit) and did the necessary. I was then forced to pay £18 for the privilege of a porter to take my things the rest of the way to the train. Not the way to treat a customer who had just paid for a first class ticket, you might think.

I wasn't the only one suffering the same problem either. Having travelled more often on Eurostar in the last year than is sensible, enough to have earned the right to a season ticket with my own dedicated chair, I witnessed a long line of little old ladies, over-burdened mothers and sick and suffering travellers fall foul of this bizarre system.

Surely, I reasoned, this glittery new terminal would resolve the problem? But no. Just the other day my friend (perfectly young and healthy by the way) was travelling through St Pancras with no more than a heavy suitcase. Quite sensibly she had decided to avoid Ryanscare's 15k baggage limit when coming home from the holidays with her Christmas pressies and take the train instead.

Yet when she arrived at security, the same evil machines were in place and she had to ask for assitance with her bag since she couldn't lift it. Staff refused at first then some kind hearted soul helped her. He was reprimanded by the supervisor in front of her and she was then called aside to be treated to a lengthy lecture on why she shouldn't travel with heavy bags.


If operators want to embrace the kind of capitalist ethic that means they make a fortune in profits while service deteriorates and ticket prices rise they should not enjoy the right to treat passengers - as happened routinely in the days of state-sponsored British rail - as criminals.

If the sick, the elderly, or the plain over-burdened wish to travel, at vast personal expense, they should not be hampered or harrassed by rules that diverge so far from the ethic of consumer protection as to beggar belief. Eurostar, we expect more from you. Please try putting customers first.

I'm semi-tempted to put up some kind of petition or standard letter, at the risk of acting like a stand-in for WHICH, to try and get them to reconsider the kind of scanning machines they use. If enough of us complained we might get the kind of service which we pay so dearly for.


Nicc said...

So what's to be done? Eurostar have the monopoly on international train travel from the UK,in spite of no longer having the monopoly of being the only carrier allowed to take passenger services through the channel tunnel.

What have the government done to encourage other international rail carriers to bring services into the UK (and thereby perhaps not letting an already purpose built terminal at Waterloo go to waste)?

Nothing it would seem.

So.... if you want to travel from London to the continent by train...remember... Euorstar is the Daddy and you are his bitch.

Amy said...

yes! go you!

Consider This said...

Nicc - that is precisely what is so scandalous about the present government policy on the railways. On the one hand it match-funds private companies to the tune of half their expenditure and - when it threatens to reduce this amount to a mere one third, given the profits they're raking in - is rewarded with price hikes on tickets designed to hit consumers hardest: while the blame falls back on the government. Now you are right that when it comes to Eurostar there is not a lot of competition out there. But then there's not much on many of the domestic rail services either. If I want to get from Edinburgh to London I have to use GNER or snake through the country changing trains once an hour. So they have a monopoly too. My simple point is that with rail fares so high (and plane fares so low) we could do worse than draw Eurostar's attention to what we expect of them for the money we pay. After all, it's a lot easier to boycott train travel to the continent than on your daily commute into London. Unless of course Ken Livingstone decides to ban short haul flights from London. And I think your idea about having a rival company operating out of Waterloo (Eurocheap or whatever) is an excellent idea. I need to get in touch with my bank manager asap

tom said...

Another operator into Waterloo? Excellent idea! The move to St Pancras means a LONGER total journey time for those of us near a direct line to Waterloo.
And why did it take 14 years to come up with the oh-so-challenging idea of through fares?
More grumbles about Eurostar through-fares and price comparisons here http://blog.villaseek.com/?p=5