Sunday 28 August 2016

Sunday Soapbox

It is sometime since I had a rant, but this week has sent my blood boiling on more than one issue, and I don't see why I should keep this to myself, so here goes.

I try to stay out of politics on this blog unless it is relevant. Council cuts to transport are relevant. When I interviewed the Labour candidate on his transport policies that was relevant, but I'm going to deviate into national politics for once, and you can probably guess where this is leading.

I have been a rail commuter, having to stand on packed trains. I have guarded commuter trains that even with 12 coaches were so full we didn't even take a ticket machine with us as the thought of getting through the train to check them was laughable. So when someone tries to highlight the issue of overcrowding on trains I'm going to back them all the way. Except it has backfired spectacularly.

Jeremy Corbyn is an intelligent, principled man. Like him or not go through his career and his views haven't wavered. You won't see him tearing into someone saying he would never share a stage with them because of their extremist views then weeks later sharing a stage with them. You may not see him every day spouting the usual rhetoric into any camera pointing vaguely in his direction just to get him on the evening news bulletins, but he knows what he believes. A lot of people have had trouble understanding that which is why instead of getting stuck into the Government Jeremy Corbyn is having to fight for his job again. And it would seem he has his entire party against him, even his own advisors.

Very few people would have advised Corbyn that the ideal train to highlight overcrowding on was the 1110 out of Kings Cross. There just aren't any overcrowded trains at 1110. Anywhere. I assume his schedule was so tight they couldn't afford to wait for the 1710 which would have been more rammed than a field of ewes in November. However, once on the train and wanting to highlight the issue of the turn up and go passenger paying the highest fares and yet having the least chance of a seat it had to be done. So having walked thought the entire train and realising that it wasn't overcrowded a bit of acting was called for. Only the script was awful. Had he said straight away that on that particular train there were seats but many hundreds if not thousands of people a day couldn't travel late morning and so had to sit in corridors, stand for hours etc, and what he was going to do about it then no one could have said a thing and the issue would have been highlighted. But he didn't, and Virgin rightly had to defend themselves saying that on that service there WERE seats available. Now Corbyn is being accused of dishonesty, deceiving the public and has become a bit of a laughing stock.

For anyone to single Corbyn out as dishonest amongst politicians is laughable. As misleading the public goes what Corbyn did on that train was so minor compared to what others IN office have done in recent years that it's on a nano scale. Trains ARE overcrowded. Turn up and go fares ARE too high, as are branch line fares you can't buy in advance. Who else is highlighting it? Corbyn could have done what any other politician would have done - booked 1st Class in advance and ignored what was going on that affected the ordinary traveller. But no, he travelled Std Class without advance booking in an effort to highlight an issue. Yes the execution was bad, but for heaven's sake in the grand scale of things it was hardly life changing. Please carry on highlighting high fares and overcrowding Jeremy, because I can't see anyone else doing it, especially those who have been laughing at you this week.

Trainspotting Live, another well intentioned but badly executed project, said one of it's main aims was to dispel the reputation that trainspotters have got for being boring, humourless pedantic nerds who take things far, far too seriously. Over recent weeks I have realised that aim was as futile as King Canute trying to turn back the tide. When I started this blog I said one of the things I disliked about the enthusiast community was the lack of humour. I even got a t-shirt printed with the legend "Bus & Trainspotters do it in anoraks" because I knew 80% wouldn't get it. I was right. So let's examine how so called enthusiasts have covered themselves in glory this year. The Flying Scrapheap sorry Scotsman never came to East Anglia thanks to enthusiasts trespassing on the line, something that has dogged the FS all year despite appeal after appeal. Enthusiasts sending deliberately misleading tweets into Trainspotting Live which made everyone look an idiot (Pendolinos spotted in Wick etc). Window hangers blocking exits and ventilation on the short sets and all heritage line trains setting a great example to kids. Bus photographers not respecting the driver's right to privacy and refusing to take pics from the right angle so driver cannot be identified. I can now add to that list.

The internet has been a Godsend for the enthusiast. Information on incidents, rare workings, specials etc can be passed at lightning speed, photos shared (but copy one and it's regarded the same as armed robbery), live diagrams available, dare I say entertaining transport blogs and so on. However it has done something else which is proving not so positive - it has brought enthusiasts together in what is essentially a hobby as solitary as fishing. There are two types of enthusiast. Those who use public transport or work in it and so have an interest in it, or those who are only interested in photos and numbers, regarding the everyday traveller as an inconvenience getting in the way. The two are as different as chalk and cheese. The former will have other interests, a sense of humour, and won't regard a wrong digit in a number as a mortal sin. The latter take everything so seriously you'd think Italian earthquakes or wars in the Middle East didn't exist - numbers are everything, passenger trains are a necessary evil holding up freight trains, got a pic of that Pink Streetdeck but will never travel on one in their life and so on.

The two do not mix well. I have left a Yahoo group giving rail information in East Anglia because of the dictatorial manner it is run - anything not strictly on topic - even comments about on topic events - are dismissed and the writer belittled. And now the same has happened to Railcam. I have given a lot of free publicity to that site, got involved, even written a few quizes for them - don't get me wrong the cameras, most of them, are great, and the live diagrams invaluable, but in the chat room you have a mix of those who like to talk about things other than trains, and those who want to talk about nothing but trains, and which Class 66 is currently passing through Slough. So the ones without humour complain about those such as myself who have one, and unfortunately the site management have sided with those complaining. What is meant to be an adult chat room is controlled like a nursery school, and as such I won't be publicising or doing anything for the site in the future. It's a bit like going to a pub and only being allowed to talk about alcohol whilst not being able to use expletives more extreme than "golly" or "gosh". Talk about footy and you;re barred! It's still a great site for watching trains or better still to see how the network is running if travelling yourself, but don't go there for a social life - not unless life for you begins and ends with Class 66 locos. It's much better as a solitary hobby.

A couple of nuggets from the rumour mill this week. Firstly, and rather intriguing, are rumours that Go Ahead, that bastion of good business running, is sniffing around Coach Services, the Thetford based bus and coach operator. Nothing has been confirmed yet, and I would be amazed if Go Ahead wanted to expand their East Anglian operation after the disaster that is Go East, and even more amazed if Coach Services were daft enough to want to sell their excellent operations to them so watch this space.

Secondly I have been told that the gas buses will be heading to Plymouth around 24/25th of October. I believe that to be half term so would make sense, although later than first suggested. Again we are talking Go Ahead so only believe that when it happens. On the subject of Anglian I bet First are quaking in their boots at Anglian's latest assault on them. Staff at Anglian were told at a recent meeting that Anglian were "really going to go after First", Lord knows how with a fleet of 18 after the gas buses go, and so the 71 from Yarnouth to Belton is to be launched, replacing the lack of a daytime 7 along Beccles Rd in Bradwell. An hourly service involving one bus so let's hope Southtown Rd is clear. I also doubt First YarLow tickets will be accepted so that rules out coming home later. Perhaps they think through passengers for Norwich will be happy to change at Yarmouth instead of staying on the X11 right through. Oh well they must have done their research. Funniest thing is they said the route has been launched due to "requests from the public and LOCAL STAKEHOLDERS". Since when have stakeholders in a bus company EVER travelled by bus! I reserve judgement but you'll all know what I'm thinking.

Soapbox away - have a good week everyone, and if on a short set don't block the bloody ventilation by window hanging!


  1. Bad day? Cheer up. First impressions matter, in politics as in life. Power is 90% about influencing those people who don't agree with you, at home and abroad (especially for a little island like us in the world), but who you need to get anything done. They haven't got time for a history lesson, after all they've their own problems to deal with too. They don't need another one.

    As I get older I think that things don't change more than they do. I gave up on the daily rail commute in the 1970s; because it was so overcrowded and I could never get a seat. Used the bus instead, and they were so unreliable that they didn't last long, either. They are still the bugbears today. Not because nobody cares, because they do (there may even be too much tinkering); but because they are so intractable. Old habits die hard. Policies die easily. Why does (nearly) everyone have to work in London? Things will change, but it's measured in decades, or even lifetimes; not weeks, months or even years.

    And best of all (yes, I'm still an optimist, despite everything) you can't turn the clock back.

    I think we've speeded up the world so much that we've lost perspective (and not for the first time). From somewhere (not sure where) - I think it was a scientist (in the modern world i hesitate to say eminent, they aren't any more) - I logged the comment "technology, doesn't mean we get things right; we can just get them wrong, much faster."

    The other thing I've learned is that "going after" the competitor is the sure sign that management have lost the plot. It's the customers that matter.(And the staff, in a people business, which public transport is; not just logistics). And that's it. If the customers were holding a stake I suspect it'd be to tie Anglian management to it.

    As for some enthusiasts, well back to my schooldays again. They were always the same. Some of them may at times be a menace, but it's that enthusiasm that keeps the world going. Even though it winds up the rest of us too.

    Finally , I can't resist the usual subject; but not from me, this time. From someone else reading your post: "If he had a daily commute to work on First Essex, he'd have something to complain about".

    1. The grass is always greener Smurfy my friend - my response would be think yourself lucky you have a service to complain about. Wait at the bus shelter across the road from me and you would be reduced to skeletal form before anything resembling a bus turned up!

      There is a fine line between enthusiasm and plain selfishness, and blocking ventilation on a blazing hot day is just as bad as having the windows open in sub zero temperatures especially on a train in public service with many non enthusiasts and kids on.

      The fact that nothing has changed regarding overcrowding only demonstrates the appalling lack of investment in our railways of the last 40 years, so the more people that bang the drum about overcrowding the better, only it would be preferable if they got the rhythm right first!

      Oh, since Cambridge is becoming a major player in the area I thought I'd compare season ticket prices between Saxmundham/Ipswich to london and Cambridge. Guess what? No season ticket prices were available to Cambridge using Greater Anglian's own season ticket price calculator! Couldn't make it up.

    2. According to the excellent - my first port of call for any rail fare - season tickets can be obtained from Manningtree but not Ipswich. Utterly bizarre - I thought it was one of the standard tickets that had to be offered - but it would seem not necessarily s outside of the old NSE area.

    3. I've got to agree with you about Suffolk. I've lived there (OK, 30 years ago) but even then public transport - I didn't drive - was in terminal decline in the countryside. I can also sympathise though with those people who have to suffer Greater Anglia, and then their bus home, or out, doesn't turn up or is anything up to 40 minutes or over an hour late on supposedly a 10 minute frequency, several times a week!!! It's the straw that breaks the camels back.

      In fairness I think there has been more railway investment in the last 20 years than probably in the 40 before that. I know I'm going to get flamed!! I think we are chasing our own shadow, there are just too many people traveling at the same time. It's not their fault. The same argument about the country being overcrowded; it is, but it's some places, at some times, again. We don't manage things well; we manage them badly, or rather, not at all. Not the staff on the ground, who do a sterling job achieving the impossible; but Government and those supposedly in charge.

      Name me one public service that has a decent web service. Are they all designed as playthings by, and for, 5 year olds? As you know even Google proforma templates are better (or for once, some of the the websites).

    4. How can there not be season tickets from Ipswich to Cambridge? Isn't that the most ridiculous state of affairs? I need to start meeting people within GA I think, and not just to get myself a cab ride on the Short Set!

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    6. Buses: Just to point out too maybe it all has an impact on rural services too, for if the urban customers desert their services in droves because of unreliability, there are less profits to support unprofitable routes. It's happened in Cambs; sorry to quote that bad example of everything, again!

      Trains: Blame the Treasury. The politicians didn't want to upset the (Tory-voting) Network South-East commuters so their fare structure was preserved, and the OCs just do as they are told. (Don't we all?) That's the way we do things. You might get a better excuse from GA though. Not necessarily a more accurate one!

      The driver for privatisation wasn't customer service but costs. They failed on both points. Not unusually.

    7. I disagree: surely the driver for privatisation was ideology.

  2. Unfortunately due to a sad individual who is very brave in calling me names using graphic language but is too much of a coward to identify himself I have had to temporarily suspend anonymous comments. My apologies for this but the fact I have been forced to rather supports what I said about some of our fellow enthusiasts. Thanks for proving me right.