Monday, 28 January 2008

The West's rail woes

Time for a bit of parochialism. The protest by anti-First Great Western campaigners seemed to have fizzled out by the time we got to Keynsham (where we live) and Bath stations this morning, my daily commute. But the protesters have done a splendid job in drawing attention to the failings of the West's rail services. Our train was not overcrowded but was ten minutes late today due to a 'mix-up over platforms' at Bristol; I arrived back from London to Bath on Thursday twenty minutes late, and five minutes after the hourly connection to Keynsham had left. And there is a lot in their arguments about the unreliability of the service; and the £140 peak return fare from Bristol to London is daylight robbery (it is £48 as a saver, and less if you book off-peak in advance). Some services operate with too few carriages. However, that is not the whole story. Much as it galls me to say anything good about FGW, their service from Keynsham and other smaller stations around Bristol and Bath is better than that offered by Wessex trains: there is (when it runs properly) an hourly service; there are reasonable connections; and there are more direct trains to places like Bristol Parkway, Cardiff, Gloucester and Swindon. Moreover, the local fares have not had the same crazed increases as the London services. All of this, I think, we can attribute to the campaign against plans to cut Keynsham services two years ago, which were greeted by 8000 individual protests. But then having spent fifteen years on London's Northern Line and my teenage years waiting 40 minutes for never-arriving Dublin buses, it is possible to have a sense of proportion about one's daily ten minute commute!

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