Thursday, June 15, 2006

Choo choo

I've just read this article on the Scotsman.com site.

I think some leaping up and down in mild relief is called for, don't you think? I know one 33 mile reinstated railway branch-line doesn't exactly signal the end of the motor car's primacy in getting from A to B but it's certainly sending the right...er...signals. I just hope it gets managed properly and isn't shut down after two years because nobody uses it.

If railway and bus travel is made attractive enough, it will get used. This actually means that it needs to go where it's needed, when it's needed and be affordable. Oddly enough, here in Crewe - a town built solely to service the railways (although tellingly it's the headquarters of Focus Do-It-All and several other edge of town retailers), one can't actually get to the station by public transport within a decent time unless one lives within walking distance. And that kind of defeats the object. We live on a major artery through town. There is a bus stop about 100 yards away but to get to the railway station about a mile and a half away we have to catch two buses and go via the town centre (the railway station isn't in the town centre for some reason but the bus station is). It can take two hours to get there on a Sunday I've heard. It's far quicker to walk but much quicker to drive, especially as one can leave your car in the big car park next to the Alex for £2 a day if you get there before 8 am.

Likewise I have never understood the mentality behind premium pricing i.e. that if something is made deliberately expensive, it has to be somehow better and worth buying as much as a bargain is. That's just for footballers' wives, non? Ryanair seem to be doing well enough (although if they paid their staff a living wage and actually landed in the right country they probably wouldn't be) so the concept pioneered by Jack Cohen of Tesco, that of pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap, can actually work outside of product retail.

It sickened me that when I was lucky enough to travel down to London earlier in the year using Virgin's First Class, it was largely empty while many in standard had actually paid 5 times as much as me because I'd been able to book two weeks in advance. If I were to turn up on spec at Crewe station tomorrow and wanted a return to London it would actually be cheaper to drive. In fact, I could drive there and back twice for the money in our diesel and despite the green lobby's entreaties and with the best will in the world, my pocket can't afford my conscience. That's pay over a ton to stand next to someone who's paid less than a score because they were able to book in advance. I'd have to stand for the pleasure too, as I've just checked and I can't actually reserve a ticket for tomorrow. Something very wrong there. A couple of years ago I had to travel to London at short notice but it was over £100 for a day return so I ended up driving to Epping and getting the tube to Chancery Lane. Mental (and for a 15 minute preliminary divorce hearing that could have been done on the 'phone. Don't even start me).

The range of Virgin West Coast fares is bewildering and has created much resentment among passengers. I can't even get a cheap day return to Warrington, despite it being only 35 miles away down the main line that runs past this here kitchen window yet I can get one to London 200 miles away. Well, I can get a day return but it won't be cheap. I can't blame Branson for having a go and at least he's put his money where his mouth is and his Pendolino trains are quite smart but it shouldn't be this way. I do hope the Borders railway pays its way but unless there's a degree of altruism or inspired commercialism involved (or heaven forbid it should be taken into public ownership and run for the benefit of the people by a benevolent government), then it'll be back to the 4x4s.

Sorry, I've been eating cheese again.

10 Vegetable peelings:

Blogger Mystic mog said...

Just read your comment on Scary's blog - I had forgotten intro/outro
what about Roy rogers on trigger, or Tarzan on Jane !!
great lines
cheers
mystic

10:53 am  
Blogger tom909 said...

Richard - I guess like me you lived through the Dr Beeching era - even at that age I found the whole thing really gutting. Here is where I have to admit to being a trainspotter - god I used to love standing around watching steam engines etc etc.
Anyway to get serious about transport - it's a bit like energy really, the first and most effective solution is not to use it. We have to get beyond this 'we can go anywhere' culture and settle down and start to realise that life happens wherever we are. After that, fair enough we need an effective transport system, but as you so rightly say, that will always be ruled by economics. Most of the time it's just cheaper and less hassle to go by car. That might not always be so.

12:30 pm  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

But it's entirely fallacious to suggest we shouldn't travel. Ever since we first hopped on the back of a horse and found that the next village had something we didn't and vice-versa we've wanted to travel. Instead of discouraging it I would encourage travelling light so we can appreciate being unemcumbered by the things we deem necessary for every day life but aren't really. I think we've forgotten how to do it and that's been the enemy of rail travel. Trains are unsuitable for travelling the way we do now. They aren't really but we've made them appear to be so.

3:25 pm  
Blogger Pamela said...

Richard, since I don't live in your part of the world, I really have no knowledge of your transportation systems.

I can tell you that ours are horrible, mismanaged affairs. Seattle doesn't even have a tube system, let alone a light rail. We do have a commuter train that goes to Seattle from the north and from the south. If you're coming from the the east, forget about it.

Goodness, I didn't know I had that rant in me.

5:44 pm  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

Rant away. The more people who do, the faster things change

1:28 am  
Blogger tom909 said...

Richard, are you ok with all these cheap flights taking people all over the place. I not sure that's such a good idea. I think it's all linked into to all this bollocks about 'choice' and our right to it.

6:51 pm  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

Tom, yes and no. Yes from the point of view that many more families are fragmented across the globe and that cheap flights make it easier to travel. No in that cheap travel has also meant the complete destruction of communities in order to service a burgeoning tourist market. These places could be anywhere on the planet; homogenised destinations for undiscerning travellers. The environmental damage that has gone on alongside this is incalculable.

7:55 pm  
Blogger tom909 said...

Yes, we are in agreement - is this a first!

10:28 am  
Blogger Richard Seamon said...

No, I'm pretty certain we've agreed on things before. You called me a fat bastard last week and I'm in no position to deny that for a start although I don't think I'm a bastard, either technically or otherwise.

10:49 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

I used to commute regularly, by British Rail. It was great. Oh alright, the occasional strike. Never lasted long. You could buy a ticket from anywhere to anywhere at your local booking office and you knew you were pretty much going to be paying the same as everybody else.

Then along came the Holy Margaret, with her odd notions about competition. The railways have been fucked ever since. Now I can't travel by rail because the companies I used to visit/work for in London have all relocated to be nearer the road network. If I didn't have a car, I'd have to go in to London and out again every time I wanted to attend a meeting.

I'm with Tom. We should never have let Beeching loose on the branch lines. But of course that would have required a little long-term vision, and politicians aren't very good at that sort of thing. That's why they persist in not taxing aviation fuel as well - short term pressure from the airlines.

Can't afford to visit the sister-in-law in Benidorm for tuppence because they taxed the airline's fuel? Tough shit. Global warming is serious stuff.

8:30 am  

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