I am convinced that nationalrail.co.uk is a gateway to a parallel universe.
I don’t mean one where the trains run on time and the tube never goes on strike. These are mundane concerns. No, the strange new world I perceived as I booked tickets a week ago was one where the geography of Britain was rearranged into a layout that only the most heavily medicated among us could possibly have imagined.
For example, it suddenly became imperative to use Fenchurch Street station if you wished to travel to Southend Victoria. As anyone who understands the geography of south-east Essex knows, the best station to use is Paddington, which heads in the opposite direction. But I’m only joking; no, of course, you take Liverpool Street, which conducts you a safe distance to the north of the Thames before diving back down towards Southend, thus avoiding most of Southend itself. Such things are common sense, surely?
I also found it suggested that perhaps the best way to travel south to London from the Midlands was to stand on a platform at Rugby for about an hour while a number of other trains passed by going in the right direction and presumably only stopped with their doors open to lure unsuspecting travellers to a mysterious future in Milton Keynes. Given that the train station in Rugby is approximately a squillion miles from the town centre but very handy for the cement works, I declined the website’s suggestion of a stay there.
What other strange geographical traps exist in this other universe? Is there a station under the Severn where locomotives from Arriva Trains Wales and First Great Western re-enact the rising of Owain Glyndŵr? Do SNCF trains sneak across the Channel Tunnel at night to drink wine and laugh at their slowcoach English brethren? Are apostate CrossCountry trains hunted by their former co-religionists from Virgin Trains to be sacrificed to Richard Branson? Is Dr. Beeching chased along the tracks at night by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, vampire hunter? Are there copies of Metro on the seats that contain news of vital importance to the day’s current affairs?
Or should National Rail get their algorithms sorted out? Yes. Probably they should.