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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Beeching Redux

Amid nationwide breastbeating by politicians of all hues and persuasions Britain's ill-performing rail system is given short thrift by many. From outright renationalisation to revisiting the ill-judged surgery undertaken in the 1960s overseen by a Home Counties self serving 'expert' - the unlamented Dr Beeching.

Privatisation of the remaining railway system carried out with unseemly haste by the equally unlamented Major Government has rendered untold profits to private companies whilst serving to make rail travel commuting a misery for countless millions. As we are entertained by promises of nirvana tomorrow on all manner of our daily lives by those chasing voters to empower Britain's next Government in office - the thorny issue of train travel continues to raise the hackles of the public at large. A public treated to appalling conditions at peak hours on many lines running into major urban centres with far fewer coaches for the demand - and consequent crush load standing for passengers.

Whilst the latter days of British Railways bring shudders for other reasons, at least most trains had adequate seated capacity with plenty of leg room on coaches purpose designed to provide comfort - as opposed to the airline economy class cramped format of today's offer. A national network with a single ticketing system guaranteed not to remove chunks from annual earnings through exorbitant season and same day travel prices.

The rail 'industry' trots out the same flaks to justify their 'investment' and promised improvements tomorrow every annual ticket fare rise focusses on the highest railway travel fares in all of Europe; whilst at the same time fighting tooth and nail to remove 'Guards' from passenger trains as a cost saving to their bottom line. Notwithstanding the numerous health and safety issues resulting from driver-only trains carrying hundreds of people over busy lines in peak hours. Good of the RMT, ASLEF and other railway guardians to call out blatant pillaging of a national utility and infrastructural asset by private companies.

From phased renationalisation of the entire railway network to reopening of branch lines serving communities enduring reliance on a choice between choked roads and uncertain bus services having to similarly endure rush hour traffic, school runs and bad weather. Fleetwood is one of those unfortunate towns deprived entirely of a safeguarded rail service bringing travel from the north Fylde coast to Preston and the north of England - nay beyond.

The south Fylde coast similarly saw its fast and frequent train service truncated to a single track rump from Kirkham as far as a wasteland terminus next to a car park on Waterloo Road. This once public spirited railway age is now a passing memory for an older generation and almost impossible to grasp for today's hard pressed house buyers in this millenium - climbing into their cars for a daily trek along busier than ever roads to and from their workplace.

One Party espouses bringing the rail network back into public ownership where management transparancy and accountability is at least in plain view. Now another Party throws out the premise of rolling back some of Beeching's accountancy backed cuts to reopen dormant rail lines given over to cycling, rambling and opportunistic house builders. Transport for the North and vocal political leadership in northern towns and cities is pressing on Westminster bubble inhabitants and trough feeders urgent action to get a grip of the infrastructure malaise which now is evident across much of England to the eternal dismay of many millions and incalculable daily distress of hundreds of thousands of commuters.

Either way the General Election in December does at least allow people across the country to show their mettle as far as endorsing power grabs by this or that political faction. More of the same just won't do it this time round - however mellow sounding the promises may be from a small cast of characters placing their posteriors on green benches in Parliament. The country has slid down the pole of national decline far too long - a visit across the Channel (even just to Ireland) shows the depth of disparity in what we have to put up with by the current set up on the railway business - and how far more equitable approaches work for the French, the Dutch, the Belgians, the Germans (of course), the Danes, Swedes, Austrians, Czechs, Poles, Swiss, Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarians, Romanians, Baltic Republics, Slovaks, Slovenes, Greeks, and even the Italians. Those train programmes on our television channels help to bring responsible train connectivity and national systems to our living rooms 24/7. Pity we have had to endure decades of political misjudgements and given over influence on a once great national asset to rapacious private sector interests.

There is the ballot box to enable sending your own personal message next month.

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