Bob the train builder: Can he fix it?

Sadly not. Matthew Reeves moans about snow, trains, and the people who build trains...

Last summer I was hammering down the M4 to deliver my visiting Australian friend to the nearest tube station possible following the failure of the UK train network. It was the summer when Tewkesbury had ceased to exist above sea level and every train across the UK wheezed to halt. I didn't mind, I can understand that if a train line is submerged then there probably is some kind of health and safety reason as to why trains shouldn't run. This was not a view shared by my Australian counterpart. Ryan did not understand much about Britain. He didn't get why we are happy to create roads which aren't wide enough to support two cars travelling in opposite directions, he didn't understand why people considered having lunch on the Thames a pleasant experience. In his mind only a Brit would sit outside under a grey ceiling sipping on a gravy coloured beverage (served at room temperature) while overlooking an equally murky river and could declare "this is the life" with out any hint of irony. Most of all, he didn't understand how a country who measures its days of precipitation per year in the hundreds can cancel all of its trains because of a little more drizzle.

Thank goodness that Ryan wasn't trying to travel a sizeable distance across the UK by train when it decided to snow, a decision I naively made. I rarely take trains and absolutely hate them. To travel home from university by train is a fantastic experience so long as you don't value your time or comfort and are happy to set off 5 miles away from university and arrive 10 miles from your home. For me the leisurely and segmented journey costs in the region of £60. For £55 I can rent a car, fill it with belongings and the required dose of petrol and drive home without the charming company of a pride of alcoholics. Travelling by train across the UK is absolutely useless and irritatingly expensive.

If your first encounter of snow had been through the British media it wouldn't be unreasonable for you to believe it had the texture of concrete rather than the fluffy and light quality it usually takes. I have met with snow before and took the decision that a multi tonne train, running on tracks would quite easily propel its way towards the south coast, cutting through the few centimetres of cotton wool with ease. How wrong I was. The journey took double the usual time, which itself is double the time it would take me to drive. Those of you with GCSE maths will have worked out that the journey is long enough to turn even the most seasoned traveller into an agoraphobic.

How delighted I was then to read that the Department of Transport had decided to give a sizeable contract to manufacture trains to a consortium which contained the makers of the Japanese bullet train. I would love to be able to catch a train with the ability to predict my arrival time to the nearest minute and not the hour. Presumably fast and reliable trains might mean more people using them, a greater of train times and less congestion on the roads; surely a good thing? Not according to the views of some train related union's spokesman called Bob. Bob's been whining that he's been "campaigning long and hard to protect what is left of Britain's train-making skills". I think that Bob should consider that Britain doesn't have any train making skills. After all, Bob's beloved beasts have proved themselves unable to cope with such phenomena as weather and leaves.

Unfortunately for Bob both of these travesties plague Japan but somehow their trains manage to arrive on time. When Bob demands to know "why the order was not placed with Bombardier (the UK based consortium), which has established train-building capacity and a skilled workforce in Derby", I suggest the government remind him that just because something is well established it doesn't make it any good. Burning witches was a very well established pastime but that is no reason to continue doing it.

Call me liberal but I couldn't care less which nation supplies our trains, so long as they work. Fingers crossed that like the UK's current rolling stock, coverage of Bob's rants grind to a halt. Maybe one day rail travel will be affordable and convenient.

Comments