heard on the wire

Blame it on the trains


I’ve recently spent a lot of time on the train, gently speeding between London and Newcastle, a journey that leaves much time for reflection upon the state of the nation’s railways.

I’ve taken to travelling the longer route, via Metro to Sunderland and then on Grand Central trains along the beautiful Durham coast to Hartlepool, thence inland to York and the south. It adds to the journey time but puts a lot less strain on already strained pockets. I am lucky; I can travel during the week on the one return service that gets me to the capital and back for little over £50, I’ve got a table seat with a power socket and there’s bottled pale ale for sale in the buffet car.

Were I travelling at the weekend or with less time on my hands, that fare would more than double, the beer would be in cans and I’d have long given up trying to balance a computer or iPad on the pull-down “table” attached to the back of the seat in front of me.

In Belgium, half-price tickets at the weekend means you can travel between the country’s two biggest cities, Brussels and Antwerp, for just €8, about £6.60, return. In Switzerland it’s possible to buy a half-price single ticket, or season pass, for a journey that could comprise a bus, train, boat and cable car. Neither country is one of the seven richest in the world. Meanwhile, one that is squanders its oil wealth on tax cuts for the rich and on weapons of both mass and minor destruction.

This is song that’s ostensibly about the wilful decimation of the rail network, but stands as a metaphor for the way successive governments have, without any mandate, undone that which generations of working people have built with their hands and their hearts.

Is this the price we pay for progress,
Taking one step forward for every six we take back?
Does your dirty oil-stained money make you happy?
Do you just want to be remembered?
Book your place in history (you will be).

Reform, reform,
Oh you are taking apart what we made
With our hands and our hearts

iLikeTrains :: The Beeching Report

Audio MP3


The demonisation of Dr Robert Beeching is perhaps a little unfair. He was, after all, only doing the job that the Conservative government had asked him to do. And they only implemented those elements of his report that met the government’s objectives; they ignored Beeching’s advocacy of improved and extended bus services to replace the closed rail lines.

And it’s easy for us, looking back through the fug of internal combustion engine pollution, to condemn the closures, without understanding that in the late ’50s that was almost universal agreement that the future lay with the motor car, not the train. As John Grindrod shows in Concretopia, the UK was building whole new towns around the car; the train was not part of the post-war British vision.

If blames lies anywhere, it lies with those politicians who decided that the rail network needed to be run for profit. In that sense, little has changed, only now the profiteers are in agreement with rail advocates and environmentalists and planning to spend billions on high-speed services of questionable benefit to anyone living in the business hubs that will be connected, never mind those who have to rely on public transport outside the cites.

The introduction of a high speed train connection invariably accompanies the elimination of a slightly slower, but much more affordable, alternative route, forcing passengers to use the new and more expensive product, or abandon the train altogether.¹

Or, as has happened, with the new high-speed line between Brussels Airport and Antwerp, usage levels are much lower than anticipated, a shortfall that’s being met by adding a fare surcharge to tickets from the airport to its eponymous city. Meanwhile the original, slower and cheaper services through Antwerp and on to Amsterdam are being cut back.

Dr Beeching, it seems, is still with us.

The Pete Green Corporate Juggernaut :: Hey Dr Beeching ⬇ [free]

Audio MP3


That said, the ill-conceived, deliberate and malicious under-funding of the rail network does make for a good excuse.

Art Brut :: Blame it on the Trains

Audio MP3


Beeching is no the only demon of rail modernisation; almost as much opprobrium is directed at Euston Station, whose expansion in the 1960s necessitated the destruction of the Doric propylaeum—better known as the Euston Arch—that towered over the entrance to the old, too small concourse.

Stations or station names feature rarely but prominently in the history of rock ’n’ pop, bringing to mind the stomping crowd pleaser that is Abba’s Waterloo and the Kinks’ more considered Waterloo Sunset and Victoria. Then there was this: not, as we might have hoped, a glum discourse on the demolotion of a neo-classical monstrosity, but rather a jaunty pop song.

Betty and the Werewolves :: Euston Station

But the best tunes were saved for the station I’m approaching. Approaching platform one is the unimpeachable Amelia Fletcher while the unsurpassable David Gedge is leaving from platform two.

Tender Trap :: Train from King’s Cross Station

Audio MP3


Cinerama :: King’s Cross

Audio MP3


As for Paddington, readers of a certain vintage may well remember this, the first episode in a the BBC’s 1975 series of cartoons based on the Michael Bond books about a stowaway beer.

And this is Paddington, 2014-style, in the first “teaser” for a new film.

Photo: Kiss; some rights reserved.

¹ High Speed Trains are Killing the European Railway Network

Twitter: iLikeTrains; Pete Green; Art Brut; Betty and the Werewolves; Tender Trap; David Gedge.

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