Had Daily Mail hack Mark Palmer had a hassle-free journey from London’s King’s Cross terminus to the border town of Berwick-on-Tweed last Friday, nobody would have been any the wiser. Train operator East Coast would not have received so much as a note of thanks, let alone a feature in the paper. But because Palmer was delayed en route, all hell has broken loose.
“Passengers packed into sweltering carriages, overflowing toilets, clueless staff and police called to quell a mutiny: My Bank Holiday nightmare on Britain's Third World railways which cost £125 a ticket for a 10-hour journey” whines the headline. Palmer had chosen to travel on the Friday evening of a bank holiday weekend. So the train would inevitably be rammed solid.
He complains that it took 40 minutes to find his reserved seat, but that is not the fault of East Coast: if he chose to board at the back of the train and then attempt to walk through, given the inevitable crush, that’s his lookout. But what of those delays? First, there was a problem requiring single line working – using the other track for a short distance. Yes, this occasionally happens.
Then there was another problem with a failed train. This also occasionally happens, and the delay could be reduced if more emergency locomotives (and crews) were in place en route. This would mean having to pay more for his ticket, as would putting on more trains to deal with the kind of crush that happens once or twice a week, being occasionally exacerbated by holiday weekends.
But Palmer is already whingeing about the cost of his ticket, as well as his piece dredging up photos that have nothing to do with his journey: the Virgin Trains’ Voyager set captioned “Every inch of space was occupied” does not run out of King’s Cross, and nor does the South West Trains Desiro set captioned “passengers are treated like fodder”. So the usual lazy photo editing once more.
We could do away with the crush, of course, and run Inter-City trains as they are run in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal: the maximum number of tickets sold is limited to the seating capacity of the train. So if there isn’t a seat, you don’t get on. But that would spark an outcry from those who demand trains offer carriage to those who turn up on spec. The Mail needs to make its mind up.
And HS2 – which Palmer mentions in an aside – will provide more track capacity not just to those going to Manchester, but also along the East Coast route that he travelled. In the meantime, if he and his editor want the railways to provide more staff, more backup, more coaches and more on-board facilities, then they should state the obvious: it will make rail travel yet more expensive.
Otherwise this is yet more pointless whingeing. No change there, then.