28 January 2011

End of the line

The last Wrexham and Shropshire train is just about to leave Marylebone to make its way northwards, bringing to an end a short-lived but much-loved service.

The Wrexham and Shropshire provided a strong argument in favour of privatisation (not an argument I have unreservedly supported when it comes to the railways). However in this case all of the points that are usually made to show how the private sector is better at providing public services actually happened. Here was a small operator, a veritable David frequently bullied by the Virgin Goliath, offering a niche product catering for a clear demand, and doing it extremely well.

Although a nearly three-hour journey to London is not going to break any speed records, importantly it was an uninterrupted journey which made it possible to get some work done. The seats were comfortable and there was plenty of room on the table for laptop, papers and tea (or wine). There was also pretty good WiFi.

All of which was merely the physical backdrop to consistently excellent, cheerful, helpful and generally efficient customer service. They were even helpful when I took Moss on the train - providing her with free bottled water!

So as well as being convenient and pleasant, it was also relatively cheap. The last tickets I actually used, on 12th January, cost me £32.00 return.

I was due to travel to London on Wednesday. However the 06.09 pulled into the station, the carriages were empty, all the lights were off and the doors were looked. Baffled passengers stood around looking slightly puzzled, as one does at that time in the morning when the world doesn't function as smoothly as it ought to. The driver got out and walked down the platform telling passengers that the company was going to finish on Friday, no-one had turned up this morning and he was not taking passengers. He then climbed back in the cab and drove off into the darkness.

Station staff were taken aback, having heard nothing about it, and they could not offer much advice. In fact, as the day went on, it became evident that the announcement of the closure had only been made to staff the night before; a formal announcement to the public was made at about 9am, but it was too late for the poor 06.09, which presumably trundled down to Marylebone empty... leaving a trail of passengers standing folornly on various platforms.

It is a shame that this all-round excellent service is no longer operating. It often seemed too good to be true and clearly it was, having made a loss of over £2m last year. Unfortunately Virgin (arguably the Tesco of the railway world) denied them access to Wolverhampton and other stations, so that the company couldn't take advantage of a potentially lucrative business market.

I have been spoiled by Wrexham and Shropshire's convenient, comfortable and cheap service. My next trip to London will be a nighmare. I will have to get a typically dirty Arriva Trains Wales train (also usually late and overcrowded so will have to leave earlier to make sure I get my connection); then spend half an hour standing on a draughty and dingy platform at Birmingham New Street; and then squeeze into a Virgin with no room to work, filthy seats and smelly toilets. The total journey time will be the same or longer, I will not be able to get any work done and the whole experience will be stressful and unpleasant. On top of which, I will have to pay between £80 and £160 instead of £30-40.

Without Wrexham and Shropshire I think I may be back in favour of re-nationalising the railways. I think this announcement by train manager Jane recorded on the last day of service speaks for itself.

1 comment:

alex matthews said...

Sign a petition for gov't action on the closure of Wrexham & Shropshire line: http://bit.ly/guOlB8 #savewrexshroprail tweet and pass on as you can


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