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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 16:30 GMT
The view from our rail champ
Jon Yuill, BBC News Online's rail commuters' champion, logs his thoughts about the wrongs and occasional rights of our rail system

Wednesday 5 February

What goes around...


Just as David Attenborough has detailed the complex life cycles of most species on this planet, I think I may have stumbled upon a life cycle phenomenon of our railways. It goes like this.

WHO IS JON YUILL?
Elected: Jon Yuill was voted BBC News Online's rail commuters' champion by users of the site
Voice: His role is to speak up for the beleaguered commuter
Commute: Married with three children, Jon commutes by train between Witham (Essex) and London
Under-investment = crash = tragedy = hand wringing = a big inquest concluding "we must invest more" = do nothing. After which, the cycle starts again. I think you get the idea.

Remember all that wonderful posturing in Parliament after last year's series of disasters? Remember the promises? The fine words? The by-now familiar trembling voices of politicians as they pledged massive improvements?

Well, last week, the head of the Strategic Rail Authority (if that's not an oxymoron), Richard Bowker, announced the scrapping of plans worth more than 10bn as he admitted it could not afford to expand the rail network.

Hardly a single major line will be unaffected. Whole projects are being shelved, probably never to be revived.

Out went a 750m scheme to relieve congestion on South West Trains. Out went a 4m upgrade on the East Coast Mainline. The East London Line will be delayed by two years .Improvements at stations are to be cut from 40m to 10m .

Whilst there are many ills to befall the network, what will surprise many is that during unprecedented disruption, one of the things they have to deal with is wages for the average worker rising to 26,000. Mind you, once they realised the parlous state of the network they have had to hire 10,000 more staff than they had prepared for.

Do we have the will?

To cope with overcrowding, the authority has suggested cutting services. Yes. You saw right. Too many people are being delayed, so their answer is to cut services. This means fewer trains, which they hope means less congestion.

After hearing all this, it struck me that the only thing stopping us getting the railways we deserve (and pay for) isn't money at all. It's something much less heralded, but actually, much more fundamental. It's called will power.

Just think. As we struggle into work each day, dutifully paying our taxes, thousands and thousands of men and women in our armed forces are being transported to the Middle East (no, I don't mean Leytonstone).

Now, bear with me, this isn't an anti-war rant. Once there, they will be reunited with their high-tech equipment. They will be fed, cared for and generally made ready to perform at their peak in a possible war.

It's a massive operation, involving land, sea and air over many thousands of miles in an inhospitable environment. And, it's only taken a few months. The issue is, they are there because someone in authority has the will to make it happen. It's that simple. It can be done, because the executive wants it done.

We are the world's fourth largest economy. We have brilliant minds, a wonderful heritage of innovation and engineering. Why, only about a hundred or so years ago, we ruled three quarters of the world's population. You may want to reflect on this next time you're stuck for hours due to a points failure. And remember. It's not money. It's not logistics. It's simple will power. Which, of course, costs precisely nothing.

Who was that wonderful man?

Finally, in my last Yuill Log, I was very scathing about First Great Eastern railways after being stuck on a train for three and a quarter hours for a 50-mile journey, made worse by a driver who was struck dumb.

News reaches me of a driver caught up in the same mess, but who kept his passengers informed regularly - and with wit - throughout the ordeal. I know not his name, but send him the collective thanks of several hundred commuters. Next time I'm stranded on a train, I hope it's yours. And let's face it, it's only a matter of time!

Some of your comments:

Michael Stevenson, uk
Good column, but does it make any difference. Does anyone associated with the provision of rail services actually read it? Do they even care? We all know what the problems are, action is what's required.

Steve Cahill, Sandy, England
Jon, you have rapidly become essential reading for the embittered commuting fraternity. I look forward to your words of wit and wisdom. It's reassuring to know that, from my point of view, it is not just West Anglia Great Northern who treat their passengers with total contempt. Please keep banging the drum on behalf of us all, we need to fight back !!

Friso, UK
Maybe we need a war on the railways? Then they can send in the military. Seeing as the Army does seem to be capable of moving large amounts of machinery and people around the world, they would make a good candidate to take over the railways.


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