Ah yes, as the nights draw in and a chill fastens itself to the world, as the first stumbles and slips on icy pavements appear and as the horror of the Christmas songs assault our senses in the increasingly overcrowded shops, so one of the other great Christmas traditions descends upon us in a time when we are exhorted above all to be with the ones we love, for this special time:
Thousands of rail passengers will be hit with severe delays and cancellations during Christmas and New Year as some of Britain’s busiest lines are disrupted for as much as two weeks.
Only two of the network’s seven main routes will be spared from engineering works over the festive period, while the unluckiest passengers may see their journey times doubled as they are forced to use rail replacement bus services.
Disruptions will begin from 21 December and will continue until 3 January. Passengers hoping to travel between South Wales and London will be hardest hit, with no trains running between Christmas Eve and 3 January.
Yes, as ever, our wonderful rail companies will be destroying the ability of people to get to their families around the country. And notice just how carefully the dates have been chosen: 21 December to 3 January. So, unless you plan on taking leave, you will once again have no option but to face the congestion and chaos of slippery roads because they are disrupting things well in advance of any time that you might be able to sneak off without a major investment in your leave, but also keeping them disrupted well past the beginning of the New Year.
This is, of course, just the tonic for hard-pressed folks who have seen their prospects, earnings and job security eroded by our shameless masters in Westminster who might, just might, want the convenience of travelling around the country with someone else doing the driving for a change. And yet it should come as no surprise to anyone who has looked at the structure of our rail system that the benefit of the people who want to use it is of the very least importance. Have you seen anything run by the state which had the convenience of the user at its heart?
The Devil’s Kitchen has done an elegant analysis (which may contain some inelegant language, so read the source at your own risk!) of why rail companies often behave in such an apparently traveller-unfriendly way. In essence, the reason they do so is because the railway passenger is not their customer. The customer is the government, which has handed over a geographical monopoly to the train company in exchange for keeping the capital costs of running the train off the government books. The train company delivers the service at the level the government dictates, in exchange for all the captive profit it can milk from commuters.
Since the train companies can do very little to make their services more cost effective or more popular to rail users, they are left with maximising income. Which is why there’s always a surfeit of “Revenue Protection Officers” around, even when there’s a dearth of drivers. And that is why “railing” (sorry!) at the train companies is mostly just a waste of your breath. In reality, to both the train companies and to the state, your presence is just a necessary evil to be endured while they take you for all the money they can.
And since the faceless bureaucrat who gets to make the decision is on leave over Christmas, it’s obvious that this is the ideal time for the train companies to inflict misery on us all.