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Government and Network Rail put us on track to misery

PUBLISHED: 10:00 14 August 2014

The new trains on the Southern Rail routes from London are much better than Greater Anglia commuter units.

The new trains on the Southern Rail routes from London are much better than Greater Anglia commuter units.

Archant

It’s been a pretty grim week to be a rail traveller in this region with a weekend of engineering work making it tough for leisure travellers followed by the almost inevitable “engineering over-run” hitting commuters on Monday morning.

I’m not on staycation or at home, I’m going on holiday!

I’m really looking forward to going away on holiday soon.

Just for the record, and for the benefit of BBC Look East whose presenters clearly think that if you don’t go abroad you’re not really on holiday, we’re not having a staycation this year. We’re not staying “at home.”

We’re going to Cornwall.

It’s not that we’re too poor to go abroad. I hope it’s not that we’re too boring to go abroad on holiday.

I just can’t face the thought of all the hassle of going through an airport to sit in a steel tube for hours and then get deposited on a hot beach with nothing to do except get sunburned and/or drunk for the next two weeks.

But to hear the report on the region’s tourist business the other day, you’d have thought anyone who chose not to go abroad was only doing so because they’d been so hard hit by the recession.

A family from Hertfordshire staying at what looked like a very nice chalet at Fritton Lake near Yarmouth were described as “holidaying at home.” No. Their home is Hertfordshire. That is not the same as Fritton Lake!

And I still hate the word “staycation.” It first cropped up about 10 years ago to describe anyone who was not going away, but having days out from home.

Now it is used to pejoratively refer to those who enjoy exploring our own country, whether it’s Cornwall, Wales or Scotland!

Frankly the last few days has shown that rail passengers in this region get a poor deal in third class trains for first class fares – and that is simply not right.

In saying this, I must absolve current rail operator from most of the blame. Abellio Greater Anglia is caught in the middle of monumental incompetence at the Department for Transport and mind-blowing inefficiency at Network Rail.

Let’s take the Network Rail issue first. Once again we’ve had major engineering followed by over-runs which threw the whole system into chaos on a Monday morning. The one seems to follow the other as sure as night follows day.

And yet no one is held to account. No one in the engineering planning department is sacked or even disciplined (so far as we know).

Network Rail doesn’t seem to care about the passengers. Why should it? It’s the poor rail operating companies like Abellio Greater Anglia that act as their shield to keep them from the wrath of the public.

But Network Rail’s inadequacies are not the reason for the sub-standard trains that ferry passengers around in this region – and I had a dramatic demonstration of just how bad they are at the weekend.

I travelled from Manningtree to Sussex (Ipswich station was closed because of the above-mentioned engineering).

The train that took us to London was 25-year-old electric unit (a 321 for fellow rail nerds out there) with no air-conditioning, knackered seating, and the general smell of months of sweat.

The train that took me from Victoria to East Grinstead was a much newer design – a Class 377 for the nerds – with air conditioning, comfortable seats, and a much smoother ride. It really showed up how poor our trains are!

So surely we should blame Abellio? Wrong. This region has twice suffered from major Department for Transport foul-ups.

The last Labour government mucked up the East Coast franchise, resulting in National Express over-bidding, pulling out of the deal, and ultimately leading to major delays in the awarding of other franchises.

Then the current government wanted to show that it was just as capable of messing things up when it came to franchise awards, fouling up the West Coast deal.

The result is the long-term franchise for this region was put off from 2012 to 2014 and now 2016. Abellio cannot raise hundreds of millions of pounds to buy new trains for a two-year franchise so even if tracks do get sorted we’ll have grotty trains until the 2020s!

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