Yesterday, without warning, ‘one’ railways suddenly ceased to exist. In its place are platforms decked out with “National Express East Anglia” logos and posters, and trains in a new livery. Overnight, it seems, the company was taken over, everything changed, and no one seems to know what’s going on. In fact, so new is this news that I’ve only been able to find one article telling me about the takeover. One’s web site no longer exists, but redirects to one of the many* National Express web sites.
This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, and I don’t expect much to change other than the words on the signage. After all, when ‘one’ took over from Great Eastern very little actually happened – the livery changed on the outside, but the trains were exactly the same on the inside. I think the only thing ‘one’ actually did was put prices up and convince us all that having their trains go slower would speed things up (the idea does work in theory, in that less time is spent sitting in stations, but it does seem a little backwards). However, I think the most frustrating thing about ‘one’ was the name – it’s so pretentious and odd-sounding. “One welcomes you to this train”. Why thank you, good train driver, one is most grateful for the welcome.
National Express are perhaps more well known for their coach services, which are quite reasonable and a good alternative to trains. With train ticket prices ever on the increase, coaches are no doubt getting more business as they take up the angry customers who can no longer afford to travel by train. Of course, that does put more traffic on the roads, and has a larger carbon footprint, but it is easier on the pocket. That said, Megabus also seems to be doing very well, offering dirt-cheap travel between certain routes. It’s a no-frills service, but it works.
The biggest problem with National Express taking over ‘one’ is that they will have a job convincing everyone that it was worth the effort. If no major improvements are seen, we will begin to wonder what all the fuss was about, and ask why we didn’t just stick with what we had. After all, it’s not like we get much choice here – if we’re travelling by train we get on whichever train happens to come in at the right time, regardless of who is operating it. The company name on the side makes little difference. As long as it gets us to our destination quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively, it could just as easily be run by Tesco.
And there’s another thought – considering how suddenly and without warning this takeover happened, should we be expecting such takeovers and rebrandings in other areas too? Virgin Megastores recently vanished and was replaced overnight by Zavvi. Could we wake up one morning to discover that Tesco is now called ‘Wombat’?
* Yes, there are in fact several National Express web sites, we discovered this morning. NationalExpress.co.uk redirects to their coaches portal, and says nothing about them running trains at all. NationalExpress.com takes you to a central hub showing that they run coaches, trains and links between airports. And the old ‘one’ web site redirects to NationalExpressEastAnglia.com, which is an entirely different site again, and which bears little resemblance to the layout of the other National Express sites. Confused? Yes, so was I.