The theory of liberalisation of European railways is all very well. At one level the cross border service between København and Malmo, the Øresundstog, is a good example of it – a rail service running every 10 minutes across the bridge between Denmark and Sweden, and run by neither Swedish incumbent operator SJ nor DSB.
But the first headache is to book tickets – see this post for more on that little conundrum for journeys beyond destinations served by the Øresundstog trains. As well as the general inconvenience of finding good prices, there was no one website that would sell me a through ticket, something that cropped up and an important point again today when taking this train.
Anyway, to the trip itself. I was due to leave København H at 1332 today, arriving Göteborg C at 1715, leaving there at 1800 and arriving Oslo S at 2149.
Having seen heavy snow falling outside the window I headed to København H an hour earlier than scheduled, just in case. All trains to Malmö, let alone on to Göteborg, were arriving at the platform, and then promptly being cancelled, or sent back towards Helsingør. So what to do? DSB employees sent me to Nørreport, telling me to take the Metro to the airport, and from there take a train to Sweden, and the problem was between Kbh H and the airport they said.
But Nørreport Metro station was packed, with not a single employee anywhere, and trains only as far as Øresund station (half way to the airport), but with a Malmö through regular train listed I – erroneously – took that. So back to Kbh H… only for it to be cancelled. Then I headed back to Nørreport station as no-one at Kbh H knew what was going on, and then onto a Metro to Øresund, got thrown out at Lergravsparken, finally changing at Øresund and then took a train that ran at reduced speed through to the airport, arriving 30 mins after my original train should have been passing through there…
The lesson here is that no-one seemed to have any clue what was going on, and the solution – to send people from Kbh H to the Metro – was not viable due to the Metro problems. It’s as if there is a knee-jerk reaction at Kbh H – when things break down there, just send people for the Metro instead. Anyway, the whole mess is typical of DSB – the railway firm with the worst customer service I’ve seen in Western Europe.
Anyway then, I finally got an Øresund train from the airport across the bridge to Malmö, and then a whole new set of problems cropped up. I – understandably enough – took a ticket and stood in line for SJ’s international desk in the station, only to be told that because my train was operated by Øresundstog they could not help me, and I had to go to Skånetrafiken instead. But at Skånetrafiken they could not help, as they had no information about what was happening in Göteborg C (a station run by SJ), and no idea what to do about my connection. “But why didn’t you book a through ticket?” the Skånetrafiken guy asked me. “You can’t” I answered (see the blog entry)*. “You better call NSB then” (operators of the Göteborg-Oslo service) were the parting words from the Skånetrafiken guy.
So here we have two offices in the same station, each basically telling me that I ought to be dealing with the other guys…
In the end, with the clock ticking down to the departure of the next Göteborg train, a full hour after the one I should have taken and hence due to arrive Göteborg C 15 mins after departure of the Oslo train.
The friends I’m due to stay with in Oslo duly called NSB for me, according to the Skånetrafiken guy’s instructions, of course to be told that the train would leave punctually at 1800 and there was no way to make it wait. When I arrived in Göteborg a couple of minutes after 1815 I can indeed confirm it had departed.
So to the fallback options – buses between Göteborg and Oslo. I in the end took the 1905 bus, paying the ticket at my own expense (229 SEK), and am writing while in the bus. It’s due to arrive Oslo at 2240.
But what now? I’ve met the cost of the travel at my own expense due to incompetence of DSB primarily, but also due to the lack of sensible cooperation between the relevant operators. At the very least I want to claim the SEK 229 for the bus back, or the NOK 299 I paid for the train ticket that I couldn’t use between Göteborg and Oslo. But who do I claim from?
A starting point would be to determine what time – if at all – my scheduled 1332 Øresundstog actually arrived at Göteborg C, if it ever did. Because I cannot tell from either Rejseplanen on the Danish side, nor SJ’s app on the Swedish side, if it ever did. Without this information any compensation effort is going to be a game of pass the buck. I don’t personally have the information, as I was not at the station then, but instead battling the Metro as the DSB people at Kbh H had told me that was the best bet… I asked the guard in the later train I instead took, and she had no idea.
So, then, welcome to the liberalised railways of Europe. Nice, market-efficient idea when it works. But if you’re a passenger and it doesn’t, then tough shit. It all becomes a case of pass the buck. What the solution is I have no idea – some sort of rail ombudsman perhaps? – but at the moment all of this just does not work in customers’ favour.
* – now checking it, it seems that through tickets for København – Oslo ARE available from SJ, which was not the case when I tried to book back on 5th November. This, I presume, is because Øresundstog had not made its post-timetable-change data available to SJ at this time. Which is another problem in itself – a timetable change AND snow on the same day, and something is sure to go wrong.