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Thomas the Tank Engine

Hellish Commuting

14th Dec 2016
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We can send people to the moon but not Brighton. Something is going badly wrong with the British transport system.

This column is sponsored by my dear editor who has ducked lunch as he cannot get to London and back in time to meet me!

Whether you love work or hate it, arriving on time after an instantly forgettable journey helps to smooth out the stresses of the day.

For so many in 2016, this has become no more than a dream that is never likely to be fulfilled.

Whether you live in Brighton, Eastbourne, Ealing, Cockfosters or anywhere else on either Southern Railways or the Piccadilly Line, the journey to and from work has become a disaster happening in slow motion, if at all.

Colleagues are probably used to excuses, while loved ones may be little more than a memory, certainly the little ones.

A friend of mine could act as the perfect example of an unwitting victim. She has a senior post at the National Theatre, requiring her to work long hours with late finishes on a regular basis. She also has a young family living not much more than an hour's journey away in Brighton.

Ever since she took on her high-powered role, the effort of getting to work on time (which admiring colleagues confirm is always achieved) must have been immense, while awkward late nights have extended into unpleasant early mornings on far too many occasions.

With all due respect to train operators, trade union leaders and the government, this is not good enough.

In a funny way, the fact that two major problems have arisen for different reasons makes it even worse.

The rights and wrongs of the Southern Railways debate will probably be decided by politicians. On the one side, train staff believe that the company is trying to take their jobs (and potentially kill passengers) in their efforts to save money. On the other, the company is trying to boost its profits to meet shareholders’ expectations.

Whoever is in the right in what has become a fearsome and protracted battle, the Government would have to be brave to reappoint the current franchisee when their contract is up.

The Piccadilly Line debacle is a farce, although it is hardly funny. How trains that have been running for decades suddenly suffer from unsafe wheels is a mystery. The only conclusions that one can reasonably reach are either that anyone using the line during the winter since these trains were introduced has been putting life and limb at risk, or alternatively it is impossible to see what the fuss is about.

The obvious solution to both of these problems is greater investment in the railways and, dare one suggest it, a much more careful process to decide who is fit to run and operate the system.

To ensure fairness, the obvious outcome is to replace the company running Southern Railways and this might be paired with some legislation to curtail the unions. At that point everybody should be happy, obviously with the exception of the commuters who have lost jobs at the same time as their families.

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