Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Train In Vain

Following a New Year's resolution to heighten the sex appeal of Never In All My Life's content, I thought I'd open 2008 with a post bemoaning Britain's privatised railway network. Do stop me if it all gets a bit too steamy.

What a shambles it is. When British Rail was broken up and sold off by the Tories in 1993, it was on the premise that the private sector would provide the necessary finances and a market-driven approach to produce an efficient service for passengers. Balderdash. With 25 different franchises making for a confusing network, ridiculously expensive ticket prices that can vary wildly if you have to use two different train operators for one journey, unreliable and severely overcrowded services, and profit being put before rail safety, the whole thing is a joke. Naturally, nationalisation is the most sensible and rational solution. Although the much maligned British Rail was in decline before it was broken up, this was hardly surprising given that the whole state-owned rail system had been deliberately and systematically undermined by a Conservative government preoccupied with advancing the automobile industry and that saw the railways as an expensive hinderance.

It's difficult to turn rail services into a profit while also providing an adequate public service - and that's why you shouldn't try to do both. By their nature, the main purpose of public services such as public transport should be to provide efficient, reliable and affordable services, regardless of profit. Recently, the 'unprofitable services' of the festive period have meant private operators not running any trains atall: not really a public service then, and quite embarrassing when compared to the still-excellent festive rail services enjoyed across Europe, even on Christmas Day. Perhaps most laughably of all, despite escalating ticket prices and shoddy services our 'privatised' rail industry still requires government subsidies to the tune of £4.5billion a year in order to prevent the franchises from collapsing. See, despite only having to operate when they think there's a profit to be had, they're still incapable of running the whole thing. They couldn't organise a... cat.

I've had a fresh bee in my bonnet about all this since last Friday when I had to endure a torturous six-and-a-half-hour train journey to Birmingham for a meetup with university friends (aka Unibond '07) and some of their spice (if the plural of 'mouse' is 'mice', surely 'spouse' must become 'spice'?). After forking out for an extortionately-priced ticket that anyone on the continent would baulk at, my first scheduled train was suddenly cancelled, and the following one was delayed by 98 minutes, which is long enough to soft-boil 32.666 eggs consecutively. Already aghast that private companies could possibly have failed to deliver anything resembling an affordable, reliable and efficient service, I was further incensed when the 98-minute-delayed train finally rolled in with just three carriages. With two trains' worth of passengers piling into this measly accommodation, it made for a most uncomfortable journey for all concerned. It all meant I was so late for Unibond '07 that the university lot - including the high-profile presence of Jess' American boyfriend Alex - only got to enjoy my company for just over three hours. So it's not me you should feel sorry for, it's them. In total, that trip involved 9.5 hours of travelling and 3.5 hours of socialising, which isn't what I consider to be a favourable ratio. Certainly not as favourable as my mechanical torch (as mentioned in my post on Boxing Day), which offers 30 minutes of light from just one minute of frantic manual handle-winding - that's what I call a favourable ratio.


Blogger Dan said...

It's really all very depressing (except the torch bit).

I'm getting towards the end of Christian Wolmar's incredibly fantastic 'Fire and Steam', a history of the railways in Britain.

The social impact of the railways over the years has been incredible; arguably the Labour Party really came about because of unionised rail workers.

Incredible too has been successive governments' running down of the railways, culminating in Beeching's butchery of the 1960's (4,000 of 7,000 stations closed, 6,000 of 18,000 miles of track closed...) and the botched privatisation of Major.

Anyway, Wolmar's yer man for this. His latest article is particularly brilliant:,07.shtml

January 03, 2008 9:23 am  
Blogger Dan said...

I'm not very good at links, am I? Just go on his site, you'll find it.

January 03, 2008 9:24 am  
Blogger Paddy said...

I've been sent home from work by Maureen, 55, with a heavy cold. Naturally the root of this cold can be traced back to my journey last week on Virgin Trains, who I forgot to name and shame.

Your potted history of rail cuts has reminded me of a song my old music teacher Mrs Thompson, 58, used to make us sing at primary school about the trials and tribulations of rail travel in the post-Beeching Axe climate:

Oh, Doctor Beeching! What shall I do?
I wanted to go to Birmingham and they took me on to Crewe.
Take me back to London as quickly as you can
Oh, Doctor Beeching, what a silly girl I am!

January 03, 2008 1:34 pm  
Blogger Paddy said...

After looking into this it appears I'm, incredibly, mistaken (not incredibly mistaken, I must stress. Just - incredibly - mistaken).

The one we sung at primary school in fact referred to "Oh, Mr Porter", and I've melodically congealed it in a horrible manner with a spoof version from the old BBC sitcom 'Oh, Doctor Beeching!', as sung by Su Pollard:

Oh, Dr. Beeching what have you done?
There once were lots of trains to catch, but soon there will be none,
I'll have to buy a bike, 'cos I can't afford a car,
Oh, Dr. Beeching what a naughty man you are!

January 03, 2008 1:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should mention this Alex more often on your blog as it makes for a good read.

January 04, 2008 7:51 pm  
Blogger Paddy said...

Nah. He wasn't up to much.

January 04, 2008 8:37 pm  

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