Why we should invest in rail travel

On my travels round the world I have seen some great examples of running transportation systems and I have also just experienced some of the worst

I am the first to criticise our antiquated commuter services and crowded tubes so let’s look at good and bad examples round the world

The best examples I have come across recently are the MRT system in Singapore and the railway system in Switzerland and Germany.

Singapore’s MRT is entirely air conditioned and spotlessly clean so although extremely crowded in the rush hour it is nowhere near as unpleasant as London Underground on a summers day. It is almost impossible to get lost on their highly efficient which like London is colour coded but very clearly signposted throughout their network. It runs very regularly and I think my longest wait was 7 mins but 2 to 3 is more usual

Switzerland has a highly efficient railway network throughout the country where trains run directly to airports and remote villages and they are rarely late or cancelled despite their unpredictable weather. Timetables are in print format on the platform, in small print format at all stations and electronically and they adhere to these to the minute, the Swiss system also doesn’t rely on speed but scenery and it’s system is pretty old but they are rightly proud of their railway system. The Swiss have managed to run a rail service to suit both commuters and tourists

French and Italians have an efficient nationwide railway system but unfortunately they go on strike regularly making reliable planning difficult at peak times

The age of the transportation system can often be the cause of a poor system, also lack of investment and too much red tape and all three are the cause of the UK’s awful commuter services once the envy of the world but sadly this has gone downhill over the years. We are a small country just like Switzerland so with some good investment and planning a decent railway system could still be achievable. I really enjoyed watching Michael Portillo reliving the glamour of Victorian railway travel, also proof that the best way to see our green and pleasant land is by rail

Investment has been made on the West Coast mainline and I believe that Virgin has made a reasonable job of running the line. It isn’t perfect but more frequent, less crowded and quicker than it used to be so I for one was glad that he was granted a reprieve I was one of thousands who

did sign the petition

Coming back from Gatwick this morning however was an absolute shambles. Three separate excuses were given. Hooligans at Croydon, a fallen tree in Brighton and a signal failure somewhere else so I joined the miserable commuters on their twice daily commuting hell through Clapham Junction. One only has to read Facebook and Twitter in the morning to understand the misery of commuting. Great Britain used to be the masters of rail travel, now we lag behind like a lame donkey with equally lame excuses, the wrong leaves, the wrong snow, etc. Serious investment and planning is needed to make our railways even tolerable.

The USA is actually even worse. They are at last beginning to expand metros and trams and where they do run railways eg Boston to New York, Vancouver to Seattle these are slow but so much nicer than flying.

In west Coast Florida there is a bus and trolley network all run by PSTA who manage to run Central Avenue Trolley to St Petersburg City centre or via a transfer point at 75th to Clearwater. The first trolley always arrives just in time to watch the second trolley leaving the bus stop. After that there is a half hour wait. To get to the Tyrone shopping mall involves another wait for an hourly service at Johns Pass. This means that even a fairly short journey can take hours. PSTA came up with the efficient looking idea of bus stops with QR codes, fine in theory but firstly this technology relies on internet and secondly on the one occasion I did have wifi as I was opposite my hotel the bus stop has a number and the website calls it by name so it is completely useless. I tried texting but this doesn’t work on overseas phones and I tried calling but couldn’t understand the automated message so after that I made sure I was armed with good old fashioned timetables which are also arbitrary. I notice that a lot of commuters and in particular hotel workers use the system too, a great idea and there is less traffic and less cabs but the service needs better planning

So should we have HS2? If it truly links to the airports then it is a good long term investment and in my opinion it will cut down all the tiny aircraft running from London to Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle and Edinburgh but just like the third runway at Heathrow, talks will go on for years and the plan will be obsolete if it ever goes ahead.

One problem in London is that we have so many mainline hubs, to a lesser extent this is also true in Paris. This means that Eurostar which runs from St Pancras to Gare du Nord is a very efficient service from London to Paris but if you travel for instance from Exeter to Nice, travelling Exeter to Paddington, tube to Kings Cross, Eurostar to Paris, metro to Gare de Lyon for the fast train to Nice, it is far quicker and more cost effective to fly from Bristol, Southampton, Gatwick or Heathrow


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