RAIL fares expert Barry Doe says there is still a need for printed timetables.
OPEN Access in RAIL 823 was one of those issues where I agreed with many of the points raised by readers - none more so than that of David Stokes, lamenting the demise of West Yorkshire’s Metro rail timetable book.
Those of us who regularly use printed timetables have a constant battle with rail and bus operators and local authorities, many of whom tell us that since the advent of the internet printed publicity is no longer required.
They usually quote true statistics - that a large majority of the population possesses a PC, smartphone or both. And so the hard bit is trying to explain to them that that’s irrelevant.
Rail journey planners are excellent and I often use the likes of www.fastjp.com. It is fast, useful, and has far more options than the poorquality planners offered by the operators themselves. I also use the National Rail Timetable (NRT) online, printing off pages from one of the tables so that I can have them in A4 size to take on a journey.
All these are superb aids that I wouldn’t want to be without - but none replaces a printed timetable book. It’s not being old-fashioned - it’s using something that has never been superseded in its usefulness.
Let me quote an example from my own Bournemouth Transport (Yellow Buses). YB had a timetable book which was abolished in favour of small booklets that were not even put on the bus, as I was told “people will take them” (sic) and that the future is online and quite soon timetables can be abolished.
Recently a new manager arrived. He told me he totally disagreed with this, and that he would reintroduce a single book, improve its quality, add far better maps and distribute it in large numbers on buses. Like me he’s a PC and smartphone user, but agrees that a printed book is something all users require.
If you’re out for the day a book allows you to plan or change your mind and check times far more readily and speedily than looking it up on a Smartphone. The brain can also assimilate a vast quantity of information such as standard patterns at a glance - we often forget it acts far faster than a PC.
Some local authorities similarly see a need
and produce excellent timetables: Derbyshire, Devon and Herefordshire spring to mind, plus some smaller unitary authorities such as Milton Keynes, West Berkshire and Wokingham (to mention only England).
However, their numbers are dwindling. Many are giving up on the spurious grounds of ‘the internet’, whereas in truth they’re giving up owing to budget cuts, or merely their own apathy.
Sadly, the rail industry is no better. Chiltern Railways, Great Western Railway, South West Trains, Virgin Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast publish good books, but what of a major tourist area such as Scotland, which cries out for a single rail timetable from ScotRail?
As our reader rightly points out, it would have been OK if Northern had taken over the Metro book, but to simply carry on with its 19 individual booklets instead is an insult to users. All composite tables have vanished as a result.
And it’s worse in London, where London Underground now publishes nothing (it has even given up the Metropolitan Line book). London Overground and TfL Rail also print nothing - the latter means Crossrail won’t.
I took up the Overground case with the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), as I understood that a National Rail operator was obliged to produce some form of timetable. I was wrong - they can do as they wish. Isn’t it appalling?
Incidentally, the excellent South West Trains book isn’t being produced this May. It has nothing to do with the franchise change ( RAIL 824), as the decision had been taken earlier. Admittedly the pocket timetable booklets are high quality and will incorporate all the bus link tables that were previously in the single book, but I frequently took the book on journeys and shall miss it enormously.
Finally, to the NRT itself. In my review of the December edition ( RAIL 818) I was able to say it had improved in quality, and that I hoped this would be maintained and that it wouldn’t be spoiled by an implementation of the original policy of removing a lot of useful information.
Sadly, nobody is listening. I have been told by the NRT management that they still intend removing all details of catering, reservations and First Class, together with column notes saying where trains have come from or are going.
They also want to remove mileages. I have had to remind them that the Routeing Guide spells out that the shortest route is always a permitted route, and that: “The shortest route is calculated by reference to the mileages shown in the National Rail Timetable.”
The RDG agrees with me and is discussing this with Network Rail. Anyway, how can it slow down production to leave in the mileages?
In fairness, the NRT management told me the industry does not have a single view of what should happen to the NRT. Discussions gave rise to views ranging from supporting discontinuation, to making the currently planned changes, to changing nothing.
I suppose that’s not surprising given the variable quality of publicity across the operators. If only there were leadership - a body that had authority to say to National Rail operators: ‘these are the minimum standards you shall adopt’.
Incidentally, as the NRT files will appear far later than hitherto, my review of May’s NRT will not appear until RAIL 829, in mid-June.
On March 25, Great Western Railway 153370 heads into the reverse curves near Terras Crossing, with the 1457 Looe-Liskeard. GWR is one of only a handful of train operating companies to retain timetable books, while others have ceased owing to the rise of the internet.