Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Sensible Week: Day Two

Now on Scaryduck, a choice of programming. Stay on this channel for an almost-but-not-entirely sensible rant on the state of the railways (summary: borked); or switch to Robber Rabbit, where, in an exclusive interview, royal totty Camilla Parker-Bowles answers your questions on swearing. In a very, very sensible manner.

Death to South West Trains

Manic at Bloggerheads does a great line in ranting at the bane of his life - South West Trains. I too am cursed by their utter ineptitude, but as I don't travel daily and have a fluffy alternative in Virgin Trains, I tend not to get quite so shouty. My biggest beef with SWT is the fact that despite a glossy publicity campaign on how late you can stay in London because of their superb late-night service, the last train to leave the capital for Weymouth does so at half past eight. Miss this train, and you're stranded in Poole, a sixty quid taxi ride from home. Come the new timetable, I am told, this will become half past nine. I shall believe it when I see it.

Travelling on SWT, you really give the impression that the company don't give a shit about the customers. The staff try their hardest, but in a system so utterly borked, they really are pissing in the wind. And if the company insists on dressing them up as the Fat Controller, no wonder morale is so low. And just to show it's profits first, customers second, I really don't need to look further than my own local station.

Weymouth. It's a nice town and a popular holiday resort which heaves at the gills in the height of summer. It's also - like any town these days - got a bit of a drugs problem. Throw into the mix a few anti-social neds, winos and prisoners newly released from the three prisons up on Portland, and it's no wonder that the station has a reputation for trouble. That was until it got so bad that holidaymakers' first impression of the resort was a drunken brawl and being asked for "the price of a cup of tea, Jimmy." and SWT actually put their hands into their pockets and shelled out for four security guards. Nothing flash - minimum wage and as many skateboarders as they could eat.

And good grief - it worked. The drunks, the junkies and the troublemakers disappeared. Not only that, the security guards' visible presence seemed to put the kybosh on car theft, violence and intimidation in the streets around the station as well, once famously chasing a shoplifter halfway across town, before sitting on him until the plod eventually arrived. In other words: popular, effective and value-for-money. And come the end of this month, out of a job.

Good old South West Trains. The security guards have done their job, and instead of continuing their work ensuring passenger security, they're getting their P45s, and will be replaced by CCTV and some bloke who'll travel down from Bournemouth if there's any trouble. That's only an hour away, if he's not too busy sorting out trouble somewhere else. There's a 1,000 name petition to stop this from happening, naturally, but when was the last time corporation or government paid the slightest attention to one of those?

So, guess what kind of summer we travellers are going to get? Same as last year: drunken chavs in Burberry baseball caps, "Can ye spare me a couple of quid for me train fare home, son", druggies breaking into cars and station staff back in the firing line. Bad for passengers, bad for staff, bad for the local community, bad for police who will no longer have the deterrent factor at the station. But good for SWT and their squillionaire Stagecoach owners who trouser the savings. So that's alright then.

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