Since I started voicing my concerns about rural transport I have heard that a lot. People saying that as I chose to live in the country I must have known what I was letting myself in for. Well it's not quite that. When I moved to Wickham Market from Ipswich as - and I know I was being selfish - I didn't really want to live in a rabbit hutch bedsit or a run down drug ridden estate the main box that was ticked was buses. 2 buses an hour to Ipswich, Sunday and late evening buses. Now, as I have well publicised there are 6 buses to Ipswich a day, nothing evenings and Sundays. All that in the space of less than 7 years. When I moved to my current village I had a car - incidentally it took me over 6 months to find somewhere I could afford - but it proved financially impossible to keep it on the road. Since I moved here, again, existing services have been cut. If I had a crystal ball not only could I have seen those cuts coming but I'd have also won the lottery several times, have bought my own island somewhere exotic and wouldn't give a flying E400 about transport anymore. So those who say those living in rural areas have made their bed so should lie in it know what they can do.
But it's not only the buses is it. Let's be even handed here. All the Greater Anglia ads recently have been about how cheap advance single tickes to London are, the 2 for 1 offers available once you're up there and so on. Sounds tempting doesn't it. So imagine you live in Leiston and want to go to a London show, taking advantage of the offers Greater Anglia are proudly boasting. Let's even imagine you have a car. So you drive to your nearest station, which would be Saxmundham, catch the train to Ipswich (no through trains to London now), change on to the fast modern mainline train - oh sorry got that wrong - your 40 year old coach pulled by a 25yo loco, and if you're really lucky there won't be any signal failures, points failures, overhead line failures, broken down freight trains, suicides, deer on the line, inconveniently shaped snow, excessive heat or Autumn, and you'll get to London in time for a relaxing drink and a meal before settling down in your plush theatre seat, watching the best the West End can provide, before making your way back to Liverpool St.
Unfortunately though to make up for your 40yo coach and 25yo loco Network Rail are putting down some fresh, comfortable ballast to justify their existence. This means your train terminates at Witham and you have to get a bus to Colchester, onto another train which hasn't yet been cleaned and is full of beer cans and burger wrappers to Ipswich where you discover the last train to Saxmundham left 3 hours ago and you are stranded.
Ok that is a bit of a worst case scenario - although evening trans have been disrupted for months now due to ballast being replaced. But the crux of it is true. The last connecting train from London for the East Suffolk Line is 2100, before the second act has started. So we'll abandon London despite Greater Anglia's attempts to lure us there and settle for a romantic evening in Ipswich - titter ye not - the Regent has some great shows and there must be some good restaurants that aren't kebab shops somewhere. However do check what time the show finishes and be prepared to run the mile back to the station as the last train to Sax leaves at 2217. Actually you're better off driving the whole way then you won't have to rush.
How about a fun night in Lowestoft? Ok I'm being silly now but the last train to Saxmundham from Lowestoft leaves at 2107 so even if there was something you wouldn't be able to do it.
To put it bluntly if you live in the sticks and want a social life you either need to drive or be rich enough to afford some very expensive taxis. This in no way ties in with the Government's apparent wish to get people out of their cars and back on to public transport. Mr Cameron, and indeed Mrs Coffey - you cannot use something which doesn't exist, and if something is only supplied in extremely limited quantities people won't use it anyway as they will find an alternative. All these houses your crusade is going to build - will the social infrastructure, including public transport be included in the crusade?
Have you any idea how long it takes to get a new train service in the timetable? Years that's how long. The operating companies are told what they have to operate in the franchise and hell and high water won't get them to add to that. So don't hold your breath for any later services on the East Suffolk Line, or initiatives to make it any easier. Don't expect the train and bus operators to co-operate by making sure everything connects with each other to encourage greater passenger use. Don't expect train and taxi companies to join up offering reduced taxi fares to rail passengers. We want you on our trains but how you get to them is your problem seems to be the message. But then it's our fault for living out here isn't it - after all we chose to.....