Having heard about the new(ish) train connecting Liverpool to Chester (via Liverpool South Parkway, Runcorn, Frodsham and Helsby) I decided I needed to try it out.
Did you know Liverpool to Chester (and back) is now served by 5 daytime trains each hour – 4 Merseyrail and 1 Transport for Wales. You may not even know that Transport for Wales runs a train between the two destinations because if you use the internet to call up Liverpool – Chester trains invariably it will default to the Merseyrail Service. Certainly if I had not known about the TfW hourly service I would never have found it via the usual rail enquiry sites. Both trains call at or terminate at Liverpool Lime Street – Merseyrail via the underground platforms and TfW via the mainline platforms.
But after quite some faffing about on the internet I found the TfW timetable and rocked up to buy a ticket at Lime Street Station but even then the really helpful lady I bought the ticket from seemed to expect me to want to go via Merseyrail – This new TfW service is being kept very quiet indeed. I had to say I want to go via Frodsham before she realised I did know what I was asking for although I did wonder if she was also wondering where my carer was.
I got on the 11.36 train and it was almost empty but based on what I’ve already said I can’t say I was surprised. But what a nice ride it was, the TfW 3 carriage Class 175 DMU’s are comfortable and I had a table all to myself. I spread out my flask, sandwiches, crisps etc. and made a mess, which I subsequently cleaned up I might add. My ticket was checked by a very polite guard. Just behind me an older couple had found an item that had been left on the inbound service to Liverpool from Chester. What impressed me was the care and attention the guard took and the assurance that he would hand the item in a Chester’s lost people, animals, baggage office.
The service takes a few minutes more than Merseytravel as it travels a longer route but frankly you would not notice the difference. And now my gripe…..
Just before the train set off we were given a friendly lecture (oddly not with a Welsh accent nor indeed was it repeated in the Welsh language), via an announcement, on what would happen to any passenger found to have a Liverpool – Chester ticket on them meant for the Merseyrail service. Basically, being forced to listen to Max Boyce jokes would be their punishment. I nearly got off at that very moment even though I had the right ticket in case they started to play the jokes via the tannoy anyway. I got the distinct impression that TfW may have to deal with this sort of problem regularly so they were hoping that any miscreants holding a Liverpool – Chester ticket would get off their Liverpool – Chester train before they had to call British Transport Police out. But how would the miscreants have known about the all but secret TfW train in the first place?
Now call me grumpy but what the hell does it matter which train you get to Chester from Liverpool Lime Street if you’ve bought a ticket – same start point, same finish point and almost the same travelling time. The only difference is the particular pieces of track your train clicks and clacks along. This nonsensical situation sums up our dysfunctional railway system to me. Integrated transport my foot.
Interestingly, on my return journey via Merseyrail there was no announcement about what would happen to passengers who got on their train with a TfW Chester – Liverpool ticket. Maybe they’d rather not say as their punishment could be chucking off such unwelcome passengers at Bache (how do you pronounce that?) Station to collect trolleys in the adjacent Morrisons car park? But then again Merseyrail don’t seem check tickets on their trains so you’d not come unstuck until you encountered a ticket barrier at a central Liverpool Station. Oh no, you’d be sent to Mersey Ferries to listen to Gerry Marsden singing Ferry Cross The Mersey on continuous loop (readers of Bill Bryson’s book Notes from a Small Island will get this one) until you promised not to fall foul of railway rules again.
A world where a train ticket is only valid via one route to the same destination is one where the powers that be just can’t be bothered to put the passenger first. There got that off my chest.
I actually enjoyed my trip and will gladly travel to Chester via the TfW train again, although I’d be even more glad if my Merseytravel old beggars travel card would be accepted on it, but that’s another story.