So, this week, we saw the re-nationalisation of the East Coast Main Line, after National Express came to their senses and ran away from the convoluted, tortuous and illogical mess that is our rail network.
About bloody time. Ever since the disastrous, money-grabbing fiasco of privatisation, the rail network, and it's passengers, have suffered a never-ending stream of accidents, delays, cancellations, crumbling infrastructure and soaring fares. Here's a nice little article from the Times on this very matter.
I live on the West Coast of Scotland, in a popular area, about 50 miles drive south of Glasgow. It costs me £10.65 for a return ticket, and takes about an hour to get to Glasgow Central. That is if the bloody train shows up, and when it does, it is an elderly, decrepit, badly-maintained piece of crap that should have been pensioned off years ago. The signalling fails between Paisley and Glasgow with such alarming regularity I don't know why they don't have a bunch of handsignallers on permanent standby. Oh, of course. Network Rail "can't afford" to employ people like that any more. On the approaches to Central, the trackside is in such a state you can begin to understand why there are so many failures. There are literally miles of cables left out of troughs and rubbish is strewn all down the cess and six-foot.
This would never have happened under British Rail. BR employed scores of people to work on the track, walking it every day to look for problems and carry out maintenance. Faulty points or cracked rails were picked up straight away by a guy walking down and looking. Easy. If he couldn't fix it, he phoned up and BR sent out a man that could. If you left cables out of the trough, someone would probably have fired you, and rightly so.
We now have a Byzantine situation where multiple Train Operating Companies are screwing the travelling public for every possible penny, whist simultaneously screwing Network Rail as soon as any tiny hiccup occurs which delays a service. The TOCs are also busily annoying each other, Network Rail are annoying the rail regulator and the TOCs, and the relationship with the Government is a total mystery. If it wasn't so brutally ironic, it would be comical. One ring to rule them all, anyone?
The network is so overcrowded that it's a miracle the trains don't run into each other more often (big credit to the poor signalmen, the unsung heroes) and if one train should break down, large chunks of the network grind to a halt. We desperately need new lines, new and longer trains, more freight-only lines, high-speed long-distance services and more frequent commuter services in many areas.
We'd also like the bloody things to turn up when they say they're going to, and not have to take out second mortgages or sell a kid for a season ticket. Rail should be a public service, not a profit-making activity. Safety, reliability and cost-effectiveness need to be put at the top of the agenda. That's why we need to renationalise it and bring back British Rail. Just get the sandwiches sorted out first, ok?
Here's a little treat for you BR buffs. Remember this?