Traingate and the reputation of the railways

My Dad was a train driver and I worked in IT for the railways, so defending our reputation against all kinds of charges – wilted cheese sandwiches, over-packed trains, silly train fares, lateness – became part of life (especially at parties).
The railways’ reputation also suffers from people’s first experience of train journeys as a child – invariably a special event and when the seats seemed so big.  Add to that people’s discomfort when someone they don’t know sits next to them – captured by Ben Elton in the eighties with his “double-seat, double-seat, gotta get a double-seat” routine.
Then there’s the fear some people have of empty railway stations late at night – one friend once used a photo of low-lit platforms on Nottingham station as a cover for a book on crime; and some tried to stop the move of the City Council to Station Street cos of a perceived fear of crime at the station.

So my initial reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s video about a “ram-packed” midday train to Newcastle was cautious.
(Granted, it did make me think that a trip to Sunderland – yep, Salop are playing a Premiership side away in the Football League Cup again – might not be worth it.)
Cos staff do work at getting passengers seated, even if it takes a while, partly for safety reasons.
But I didn’t realise how extensive the video coverage of a mainline train service would be.
Virgin Trains have now presented their side of the story.
20160823 Labour friends of trains ab0611h
So embarrassing for the new honest politics to be caught out so badly.
Seems, despite the video images, some are saying there was an issue at some stage.  But a situation to justify a video and to exemplify privatisation?
This was celebrated as Jeremy’s best political intervention – speaking out for the people.
But the political messages were strange anyway.  The first part of the case for public ownership is how with a clearer public first ethic and not having to carry the cost of profit, we can provide better services.
But overcrowding on trains to and from London is also about how London has over-heated relative to the rest of the country.  Patronage on “Network South-East” has gone up, and more of the paths available on our main railway lines have been given over to commuters.  We either need longer platforms and longer trains, or we need more capacity – one of the big reasons for High Speed 2; or the regional planning approach of the 1970’s Labour government.
Other arguments for public ownership can help – the role of rolling stock companies, the profiling of financial returns from train service franchises, the cost of regulating the finances, the potential to involve local government.
But for those of us who’ve felt a general responsibility to defend railway travel in general, the video stunt was disappointing, cos we knew there weas a range of issues going on – I’m just not sure we expected video to show it like it did.


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