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Friday, 18 September 2009

Not the William Hague

How’s the weather in Crewe? Who knows. But today it’s been cracking where I’ve been, and that is the Netherlands’ seat of Government, den Haag (or, for those who have problems with using the local spelling, The Hague). The Peace Palace was looking resplendent, Binnenhof was in fine fettle, and the obligatory stroll along the prom at Scheveningen was warm and relaxing.

But the most relaxing aspect of today has been the ease with which all the travelling was done. In my last stay over here, the trains provided lots of capacity – but demand was rising relentlessly. So now the double deck Inter-City trains are even longer – ten or twelve coaches instead of seven or eight. The less important trains that make the journey between Amsterdam and den Haag via the “old” route – serving Haarlem – have also been lengthened, from four to six coaches. Local trains have been upgraded to double deck coaches.

New settlements around den Haag have had tram and light rail lines built to serve them, and – I know, at last – the city centre tram tunnel, which became a standing joke for so long, has been completed and is speeding up travel across town. Even at busy times it is unusual to have to stand on a tram, although the notices remind you that they can officially take over 100 standing passengers. But all this does not come at the drop of a hat, or result from the snap of fingers.

Three elements come together to produce the public transport offering in the Netherlands (and, more or less, anywhere else): planning, commitment (political and monetary), and perhaps most importantly the public acceptance that making this provision is A Good Thing. The concept of “public perception” was touched upon in the UK decades ago for rail travel: it must have been a long time back, because the man making the comments was Richard Beeching.

Whether anyone was listening I don’t know, but those three elements come together far too rarely in the UK. I should not need to linger on the consequences.

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