IAN HART: When the train can’t even take the strain

Ian Hart
Ian Hart

One day a few weeks ago, June 6, it was exactly 33 years to the day since I started work, as a fresh-faced teenager, in the days before funeral directing, in the City of London.

Working in Charterhouse Street for De Beers, I boarded the 06.16 at West Worthing station bound for London Bridge. Back then the rail company was good old British Rail.

While not perfect, and blighted with its own fair share of industrial issues, it was still a great British institution.

Granted the trains didn’t always run on time, the unions occasionally had their say and some of the rolling stock was from the 1960s, but there was almost a degree of affection.

I can clearly remember the cost of my weekly season ticket which covered train and bus travel – £31, more than a quarter of my starting wage. But it still seemed like good value for getting to and from work.

Fast-forward to today and despite the state-of-the-art trains Southern Rail is now a joke, in my opinion.

And an expensive one at that – last year a client gave me tickets to the Lords test and I was gobsmacked to discover that before 9.30am in the morning a return ticket to London was £55.

In the past few months, through both the press and social media, I don’t think I’ve not only seen a positive word about the company but also seen some of the most vociferous criticism I’ve even seen directed at an organisation.

So where did it go wrong?

Privatisation, the old Thatcher favourite, may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it clearly hasn’t worked, and I believe the same could be said for a number of things that were sold off in the 80s.

And whilst nationalisation under various Labour governments didn’t always work in this country, an effective and dependable public transport system is not only essential for the infrastructure of the UK but almost certainly something that has to be state owned and run.

Whether it ever will be again remains to be seen...

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