News and views from the heart of England - Issue 3    © David Smith 2018

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British Rail: an old joke

There is an old joke about railways and tickets. It was something Phil Customer saw when he was a boy. It was actually a little cartoon, in Punch magazine, which Phil saw while waiting his turn in the dentist’s chair. A man is climbing into the railway carriage, with a huge smile of triumphant glee on his face. He is turned towards the reader, saying: “At last - I’ve cheated British Rail! I’ve bought a return ticket – and I’m not coming back!”

These days, Phil doesn’t do much travelling by train, but he does remember cheating the railways when he was a schoolboy. He lived in Rochester, and had schoolfriends who lived in Longfield, three stations – Stone Street, Meopham, and Longfield - down the line from Rochester Station. Phil used to enjoy going to Longfield Youth Club on a Friday night with his friends, and the easiest way to get there was by train. He very quickly discovered that neither Longfield nor Stone Street stations were manned in the evenings, so what Phil did was to buy a return ticket to Stone Street from Rochester, and simply stay on the train until he arrived at Longfield. He got out there but nobody checked his ticket. Phil enjoyed his evening of table tennis and chatting to the Longfield girls, and then, later, returned to Longfield station to travel home.

Getting off back at Rochester, he would pass his Rochester / Stone Street return ticket to the ticket officer at the gate, and walk home having saved a shilling or two on the fare. At the time, British Rail was nationalised, a dinosaur industry, hopelessly inefficient, terminally monolithic and monopolistic, but Phil still suspects his weekly subterfuge was a large factor in its demise.