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Wednesday
Jul042018

Trainspotting

I have a confession.

When I read, month after month after month, the problems Southern Rail passengers were experiencing, including multiple cancellations and delays, I found it hard not to feel a little smug.

When I left Edinburgh to work for Forest we had an office in Victoria, central London, but I could no longer afford to buy a house in London, where I’d lived in the Eighties, so I spent a week looking at alternative areas – mostly in Kent and Essex – that would make commuting relatively stress free.

In the end we bought a house in Cambridgeshire which was further from London than I originally intended but a key factor was the train service.

It was faster (because it stopped at fewer stations) than many services that were nearer London, and I was guaranteed a seat, even at peak times!

That was 19 years ago and although the service has been run by several companies since then it has always been punctual and reliable. Until now.

The current operator is Govia Thameslink Railway which runs the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) rail franchise.

A few weeks ago the company introduced a new timetable and to say the service has gone downhill is an understatement. Delays and cancellations on what was previously an excellent service are now commonplace.

An interim timetable is due to be introduced in a couple of weeks while they sort out the mess but my question is: 'Why can't they revert to the old timetable which worked so well?'

To be honest, the impact on me is relatively small because I haven't commuted daily to London for years, but it's having a huge impact on the quality of life of those who do.

For all its faults (including the lack of competition on inter city services) I was, and am, a big supporter of rail privatisation and the last thing I want is a return to a nationalised 'British Rail' type organisation.

Nevertheless, the incompetence of those who are currently running our railways (including the Department of Transport and the publicly-owned Network Rail) should embarrass a third world country let alone 21st century Britain.

Talking of privatisation, I remember the thrill (and, yes, it was a thrill) of seeing the first Great North Eastern Railway (GNER) locomotives in their new livery. Like many people I was fed up of British Rail and couldn't wait for the new age of rail travel to begin.

Since then the East Coast franchise has been passed on, first to National Express, then Virgin Trains, and no-one it seems can make a financial success of it.

Now it's back in public hands and as of last month the service is run by London North Eastern Railway (LNER) which is owned by the Department of Transport.

Sadly my first experience of LNER wasn't the best. Travelling to Edinburgh last week the train was delayed by a broken window.

Fair enough, but did they have to give my pre-booked seat to another passenger (an adult half my age) who claimed to be "traumatised" by the incident but certainly didn't look it?

The return journey was also delayed – by 61 minutes – after we were stuck behind a ScotRail train that had broken down. Allegedly.

This explanation was later changed to "problems with the power lines between Edinburgh and Dunbar".

Either way it was embarrassing, not least because I was sitting behind a group of Japanese tourists who can't have been impressed at the state of Britain's lamentable rail network.

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