The Age of the Train…
Warning: there is a bit of a rant coming up, so just scroll down for the limerick if that is all you are interested in!
In the late 1970s, the then British Rail ran an advertising campaign that gives this post its header: The Age of the Train. One of its straplines was “Let the train take the strain”, something that drew derision despite the successful introduction of the Intercity 125 High Speed Train service during that period. My personal experience of using the Intercity 125 in those days is that it was, indeed, a good service.
I wish I could say the same of my recent experience with the fragmented UK franchise-based rail network. Out of three return journeys in the last couple of years, only one has been uneventful.
The most recent was on a flying visit to the Matriarch’s house in Kendal a week ago to finish off a bit of DIY that I’d failed to complete a couple of weeks earlier. Having made the return journey from Aberdeen to the English Midlands and Lake District by car on rather too many occasions in recent months, I thought that for my latest trip south I’d “Let the train take the strain“. Big mistake!
My journey involved two changes on both the outward and return legs. For the outward trip the first leg was from Aberdeen to Edinburgh with LNER. The second leg was from Edinburgh to Oxenholme with TransPennine Express and the third, a short trip along the Windermere branch line from Oxenholme to Kendal with Northern Rail. The return journey mirrored the outward one. (I can already sense the anticipatory laughter coming from those readers that have personally experienced those franchises.)
So, on reaching Aberdeen station to travel south, I learned that I would be travelling on a rail replacement bus. One, it turned out, that had a very grumpy driver and no working toilet (perhaps the two were related?). I hate travelling by coach and, if I had wanted to sit on one for three hours, then I would have booked it and not a train. So much for a smooth rail journey, but at least I made my connection in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, I never made the following connection due to my next train’s late arrival at Oxenhome. It was mid-evening and pouring down (it was the Lake District after all), so rather than wait at least an hour for the next branch line train, I called a taxi.
The following day my DIY job was finished with great elan (if I say so myself) and I left Kendal soon after only to find that both the Oxenhome to Edinburgh and Edinburgh to Aberdeen trains on which I had reserved seats … were cancelled. Apparently I can claim some recompense for the cost of my tickets, but that does not go anywhere close to making up for the inconvenience, the time wasted, or the additional cost of taxis.
When British Rail was privatised, its management lobbied for a single entity covering rolling stock and track. Instead, the Conservative government followed the ruinous plans of a right wing think tank (#nothoughtinvolved) by initially creating a fragmented system of seven passenger rail franchises and, later, 25 (these figures are from Wikipedia, so caveat emptor, but you get the gist). If the franchises make money, their customers get screwed as their executives and shareholders lap it up, and if they don’t make money, well, they just hand the franchise back and walk away seemingly without cost or penalty. As for improved performance under such a fragmented system? Let’s just say that press reports suggest that my most recent experience is commonplace.
Here’s the limerick
As the rail franchise once again fails
Déjà vu is all that prevails
“Let the train take the strain”
Is the fatuous refrain
As your journey goes clean off the rails!