Let the train take the strain?
I transport, in the course of a normal working week at the House of Commons, more baggage than it is reasonably practicable for one person to carry by hand. For that reason I commute, with electronics, briefcase and the personal clothing and necessities for the job, between Thanet and London by car.
Every now and again, however, if I am travelling up and back in a day, I allow myself to be fooled into "letting the train take the strain". This serves several useful purposes. It subjects me to the same miseries that too many of my constituents experience on a daily basis, it gets me, eventually, to London and it reminds me why in the ordinary course of events no person with a viable alternative would want to use this particular form of public transport for this journey.
It is true that during the time that I have served as a Member of Parliament the old compartmented and "slam-door" rolling stock has been replaced with more modern equipment. Whether this constitutes an improvement or is more comfortable I leave to others to judge. My own experience is that it offers no privacy for those who need or wish to work, is not designed for people with legs and that, by the time that it reaches London, it resembles conditions of accommodation that I complain about when applied to the transport of live animals for slaughter.
It has got to be a nonsense that a journey from, say, Birchington in the mid-point of the area that I represent, takes an hour and three quarters during the rush hour to reach Victoria.
We are now being told that, in exchange for a weekly or monthly levy that would have made Dick Turpin blush, the "fast trains" will reduce journey times to something not far short of the best efforts achieved during the 1970s. I will spare the management of South Eastern Trains and Network Rail the embarrassment of suggesting that they might care to look back at the timetables for the late 1920s!
It also looks very much as though even the parsimonious reductions in travelling time promised post-2009 will be achieved largely at the expense of fewer rush hour trains and services terminating not in Central London but in that Victorian beer-cellar known as St. Pancras. Beautifully restored building it may be, and no doubt most convenient for those pan-European passengers wishing to interline for onward destinations but most of my constituents do not want to go to Bradford or to Carlisle or to Blyth. They want to go to work, to the shops or to the theatre. And that means Cannon Street or Victoria.
I do not know how much research has been carried out into the amount of increased underground or taxi travel (and resulting carbon emissions) that will be generated as a result of passengers who formerly walked now having to take subsidiary transport in order to get to the end of their journey on time but I suspect that the answer is little or none.
Not so long ago Network Rail and South East Trains both offered assurances that improved signalling and track infrastructure would lead to trains on the Kent Coast service being able to overtake and, therefore, to much faster journeys. At the same time we were promised improvements to the fabric of stations such as Margate, Westgate, Birchington and Herne Bay.
During the passage of the Channel Tunnel Bill we were told that the Domestic Fast Link would lead to one-hour journey times between London and Manston airport, via Ashford and Canterbury, and in a gesture that Railway Executives have regretted ever since I was invited to travel on a special engineering train from Victoria to Ramsgate to prove the point. Old rolling stock, old track and signalling. One hour flat!
What went wrong? What we are being offered now, under an agreement approved by Labour Government Transport Ministers, appears to be a largely worse service, at premium prices, between East Kent and a terminus that most people do not wish to arrive at.
As an "improvement" that strikes me as being an offer of a nature that would make even the Post Office appear candid. The phrase "network re-invention" springs to mind!