Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Going Off The Rails

According to today's news, 'Overcrowding on British trains is set to get much worse'.

And this despite the continuing rise in ticket prices out of all proportion to inflation or any other unarbitary known measure.

Many commuters now pay thousands of pounds a year for season tickets, only to be treated no better than cattle and little better than the denizens of Calcutta.

Aeroplanes and coaches are compelled by law to provide a seat for every passenger with a seat belt and to restrict ticket sales according to available seats.

Trains appear to enjoy immunity from all such Health and Safety legislation and an apparently limitless capacity to sell tickets for the same oversubscribed under-carriaged journey.

Medical experts have warned of the increased risk of DVT to passengers forced to stand in cramped overheated conditions for too long.

Not that this prevents sinister 'Revenue Protection Officers' (no longer 'ticket collectors') targetting particular commuter hotspots at rush hour in order to issue tickets en masse to those who've been forced en-masse into the wrong bit of the carriage by the sheer volume of commuters getting on.

Yet our Swiss and German counterparts transport vast numbers of their populace on trains every day with seemingly few problems.

Why is Britain (embarrassingly, land of the train's inventor, George Stephenson in 1822), so pathetic at offering a service even on a par with what the Victorians would have expected, bar the speed when a train actually moves?

The Victorians were miles more advanced than we at providing consistent pricing structures, timetabling and reliable movement around the country and to many more destinations, not to mention providing civilised public conveniences and 'waiting rooms' at their stations, despite being run by a number of different private companies. Their open-carriaged 'Third Class' does not sound so bad after all once you've sampled a peak-time London train (another reason my heart sank when we won the bid to host the Olympics in London next year).

As for the Green arguments for rail travel, I would counter that the appalling conditions and exorbitant price of rail travel are more likely to drive people into the arms of their nearest car showroom dealer than otherwise. At least they get to die in the comfort of their own posture-adjusted seat when terminal gridlock finally sets in.


Steve said...

I used to love rail travel but not only undertake it if there is no alternative and taking my family with me just adds to my concerns. We are constantly shoved out in the corridor with my youngest in his pushchair and all of us crushed up against the doors by similarly disenfranchised commuters who have all paid for tickets/seats. Lord knows what would happen to us were the train to crash. Sadly it will take a disaster of that kind before people start putting safety first and costcutting second.

Nota Bene said...

The only trains I happily go on are Eurostar, and anything on the continent...the Tube these days is horrific...

Tessa said...

I used to love travelling by train in England, but that was before I made the mistake of getting on a non-stop express from Sheffield to Birmingham with a bunch of soccer hooligans. I spent the entire trip locked in the loo, while they tore the train apart.

Which is pretty much what privatisation has done to once-proud British Rail, by the sounds of it. Another nice one by Maggie Thatcher.

Wisewebwoman said...

We have lost touch with so much that enhanced the quality of our lives.
I'm a diehard train lover and for a few years way back clutched, in my hot little hand, a pass that entitled me to clamber aboard any train in Europe. Which I did.
Now I did ride the Eurostar last year and also a really lovely train from Stansted to Piccadilly.
I am sorry to hear things are so so bad. Transit should be in the realm of the public domain untouchables like fire departments, police, et al.
I live in a fantasy world.

urko said...

As usual, I don't have any worthwhile proposals, but I did marvel at the bloke from Virgin on the Radio4 documnetary this evening who said that they could invest in new rolling stock, but it would involve them taking all the risk and they couldn't make a business case with only two years of a franchise to run. I thought private enterprise was supposed to take risks.

The Sagittarian said...

Sounds like things haven't improved much since I last rode a train in the UK! (We don't have passengers trains in my city but Auckland and Wellington do - they seem ok, with Wgtn being the best)

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Steve, it must indeed be a nightmare trying to transport a young family by train - no wonder you don't do it very often.

Notabene - you are not wrong there - I had to wait for 4 tube trains to pass the other day before there was one I could get on without being crushed to death.

Tessa, that is terrible. What happened to drivers stopping public transport and refusing to move another inch until passengers either behave or are escorted off?

WWW - I think you are wise to hold onto your memories there - your trip might be quite different were you to do it again now!

Urko, if that isn't a worthwhile point, I don't know what is!

Sagittarian - you may well see me on a train near you if things get much worse and that's a threat! ;-)

The Sagittarian said...

Laura, that would be really nice!!