Ghan, 12-14 February 2007

Travel North

Tourism in Katherine is in its infant years. The local pub is making big profits thanks to the locals. Some of them just don't eat. They run on alcohol.

Katherine train station is usually closed. Those wishing to book a train journey have no other choice but Travel North. It does not make much of a difference, as it is Travel North that runs the train station.

Last year my experiences with Travel North were not all positive. I got the impression that I was dealing with a monopolist, with a focus on quantity rather than quality.

I did not write about those experiences last year, hoping that things would be better this year.

And yes, there is a bit of hope indeed. Travel North now even has a true train specialist named Helena.

Make your own phone call

Good morning Helena, please make a reservation for me As soon as she hears the word travel pass her ears go on strike. Her answer is shocking: Here is the phone sir, you can call reservations yourself.

I beg your pardon? If things were this easy I'd call using my own mobile. I come to visit a specialist if things get a bit more difficult. This lady obviously

The train does not stop there

Let me assess things as a harmless communication problem for the moment. So, on repeat: to Port Augusta, with bed, upgrade based on a pass. Now she understands my question. I feel relieved for a second or two, but my relief was too quick.

She just announces The train does not stop in Port Augusta.

I do beg your pardon? With full conviction she shows me a tourist brochure with the short list of major train stations. Port Augusta is not on the list, so according to her logic the train does not stop there.

Sigh. I feel hopeless now. Is this the one and only train specialist in Katherine? Last year a booking here was tough to do, but successful in the end. During the past year the knowledge level has reached new depths at Travel North. Here things go worse instead of improving.

Wouldn't it be nice if a train specialist

  1. is willing to work for train passengers.
  2. and know the train stations.
Now, as a customer, do I really have to train the train specialist here? Obviously I have no other option.
My dear Helena.
She looks at me, amazed.

Now, she happens to be busy at this moment. The Ghan is to arrive soon, this is rush hour in Katherine. Her boss Werner is waiting for her. Would it be possible for me to come back later? Helena, the train specialist of Katherine, heads for the train station. The business of the lucrative masses call. One single, difficult passenger like me is second priority to her.


The next day

Helena has her spirits high. She is now convinced that the train does stop in Port Augusta. And she takes the phone to call on my behalf. I count my blessings. Hip hip Hurray.

My story on the discounted upgrade, based on a travel pass, passes her completely unnoticed. At the phone she happily asks for the full fare rate of a sleeper. So the given rate is way to high, double of what it should be.

Yesterday repeats itself, just with a new subject.

So it is another yes-no game and I am fed up with this game. All right, Helena, please just reserve a seat for me. I'll arrange a discounted upgrade myself in the train.

But at the train station you will find us again, she rambles, with the typical arrogance of a monopolist. Yes lady, I know, that is why I'll arrange it in the train, not at the train station.

For a brief moment she seems to realise that she did a bad job in listening to me, once again. Obviously it is way outside here frame of thought that I'll bypass her monopoly. But, soon the indifference takes over. She seems to be relieved that she can't do anything more for me. Well, have a nice day and sweet dreams.

In the Ghan

In the train it takes just a couple of minutes to arrange the upgrade. Even before the train departs, I enter my cabin and head for a refreshing shower. Long live Great Southern Railways.

It is so fantastic to do business with folk that

Next year

I like Katherine and I am not the only one. The Top End tourism industry is growing. There will be some new touristic developments this coming year. Some new competitors will arrive with a better focus on customers. I sure hope it will be a wake up call to the Travel North monopolist. As the locals here say: Travel North has been in the comfort zone far too long.

I will send a list of all train stations to Helena. Unfortunately, I do not have a list of discount upgrades from seater to sleeper. So she will have to do some work herself in getting one. And it will be her job too to improve her skills in listening and helping customers. Hopefully it will be a bit easier next year to book a train bed in Katherine.

Till next nut,