I was on business this week in Belgium and travelled back yesterday evening on the Eurostar from the centre of Brussels to the centre of London in two hours. The Eurotunnel, Eurostar tracks and rolling stock are a great feat of engineering and is something for British, French and Belgium people to be truly proud of.
However, the other side of British transport reared its ugly head about 15 minutes after my arrival in London. I got to Liverpool Street station to find huge crowds at a time of day on a Friday I would normally expect to see thining crowds as most commuters had headed home. Unfortunately, someone had committed suicide by train on one of the lines in the Romford area of Essex, one of the mainlines heading out of London to the East of England where I live. Now, when a person is so depressed they kill themselves that it is a very sad event. But it is not unusual.
The poor person’s death had a major knock-on effect on thousands of people’s lives. It had happened around two hours before I had even arrived at Liverpool Street and since then severe disruption to trains arrivals and departures had occurred. I arrived at the tail end of the long wait for a train out of London. My next train was due to leave at 20.00 but instead pulled out of Liverpool Street at 20.40 (not a big delay in the scheme of things). But the reason it was able to leave was because the earlier incident had been “cleared up” or so the announcements suggested.
The first question to our Government is why does it take at least two hours to remove body parts from the line and then to re-open the line? The second point is why, once the line has been cleared, did it take me two and half hours to get back to Ipswich from London, eventually pulling into Ipswich at 23.10, TWO HOURS later than scheduled.
I decided to ask my MP, Ben Gummer, from my packed train carriage using Twitter. This was the exchange:
My tweet to Mr Gummer:
@ben4ipswich could you tell my followers and I why we have to put up with such lousy railway services in this country?
Mr Gummer’s reply to me:
@gavinmaclure because a)it was nationalised for 50 yrs; b)Network Rail is useless; c)old franchises good for Treasury, bad for travellers
Firstly, I have to say Ben Gummer is now very responsive on Twitter and uses the tool well to communicate with his constituents. Those who criticise Mr Gummer for not being available to answer questions and give his view should take note.
However, he raised three points which might explain the horrific experience on the train last night but does not give solutions to the problems. All these points, raised by Ben Gummer, the Government has control over.
Mr Gummer later said:
@gavinmaclure and don’t tell me about the pain – I am all too aware myself. It’s going to take an age to sort out, but we are making a start
Undoubtedly, Mr Gummer is right when he says the Government is trying to fix the dire state of our railways but I ask he elaborate on what they are actually doing. I am more than happy to provide a platform on my blog for him to write on this.
One area the Government should look at first are the processes around dealing with a suicide incident. This is inevitably going to cause disruption but the level of chaos it causes is wholly unacceptable when you are paying £70 for a return to London from Ipswich. In addition to my point on the length of time it takes to clear the line and re-open it (at least two hours!) why then are the same union negotiated rules on staff changeovers allowed to continue occurring as if nothing has happened and the public aren’t already climbing the walls. It took 20 minutes to get a platform at Colchester after crawling through Essex for two hours because staff changeovers had to take place. We then had to wait whilst they changed the driver!!
For some reason, the same issues we have with our railway services are not replicated on the Continent. European trains run on time and they have plenty of capacity. I travelled twice in commuter time in Belgium and it was bliss – no overcrowding and a punctual service. I had a similar experience in Paris earlier this year.
With London and Thames Valley property being so overpriced, more and more people are having to travel longer distances to get to work. The economy is close to another meltdown but with the workers (yes the workers who pay all the taxes!!) not being able to get to work on time or being frazzled by the incompetence of Network Rail and the dreadful service of National Express and other rail operators we are just making matters worse.
Unfortunately, as the country has run out of money as Labour so succinctly told us, we can’t build more capacity on the lines or buy better rolling stock. But what we can do is change police processes and re-negotiate rail worker contracts but has Cameron got the guts to do this?