Weekly Column

The Fat Controller

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There’s been an awful lot happening on the railways lately (with the exception of 21,23 and 25 June when there is nothing happening at all because of the strike).The Elizabeth line may be four years late and a tad over budget. But it is truly magnificent. It runs from Reading to Canary Wharf and beyond and up into Essex; and from Paddington to Heathrow. Trains are twice the length of any train I have ever seen and are air-conditioned comfort in every way. What a great British achievement. I did (reluctantly) vote for the Crewe-Manchester leg of HS2 on Monday despite my general opposition to HS2 as a whole. My colleagues from the Northwest of England are mad keen on it, so as a West Country MP I did not find it in my heart to vote against their pet project.I am much keener to support my neighbours Rob Buckland in his bid to get the HQ of Great British Rail to Swindon; Danny Kruger to get a new station in Devizes (which took a step forward this week); and jointly with Michelle Donelan to campaign for new stations in Corsham and Royal Wootton Bassett. There is a great deal going on with our (recently electrified) railways and as a customer and local MP I strongly support all of that work. I commute weekly up to Parliament, and greatly appreciate the (generally) excellent service provided by Gods Wonderful Railway.However, there is so much more to be done. Elements of our rail network are sorely in need of modernisation. The whole ticket structure (pricing and the way they are issued), needs to be re-examined. Can you imagine turning up at an airport with cash in hand to buy a ticket for a flight? We badly need to do something about catering on GWR, which is hopeless; and we must get rid of most of those silly announcements from the train manager (“see it, say it; sorted” as if I would not know to tell the staff if I saw something suspicious.)I am also keen to expand the network, perhaps for example by using alternative rail systems- such as monorail and driverless trains which may well have a role linking small towns to the network. We should be proud that 129 new stations have opening since privatisation, and that (leaving aside the Pandemic) something like 2 billion train journeys are taken every year. There is plenty of room for growth. I would love to see some of the old Beeching cuts reversed, new stations opened and all kinds of efforts to see ‘rider-ship’ increased. The railways make a great contribution to carbon reduction, and in so many ways are just vastly preferable to any other form of transport.With all of that as background; and with huge potential for the future opening up; how can it be that in a throw-back to the 1960’s the RMT Union think it reasonable to strike, to throw the country into chaos, to prevent people getting to work, to the doctor or to see their families; why is it that the most experienced train drivers on £65,000 a year want to see it increased by inflation; and how can they really object to the vast swathes of modernisation which the railways still need. The RMT strikes are prehistoric; the RMT officials and their Labour Party supporters, positive dinosaurs. The hundreds of thousands of pounds paid by RMT both to the Labour Party centrally and to so many MPs must make it hard for them to be otherwise.Box man Revd Awdry’s Fat Controller would have given the RMT bosses pretty short shrift. Railways are part of Britain’s heritage; and they are the backbone of any sustainable transport policy. We must not allow them to be shunted into some obscure siding by the Socialist Trades Unions.

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James Gray
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Published Date
June 23, 2022