A story about privatisation

When the railways were privatised, we were told that they needed to be freed from state control and entrusted to the dynamic private sector.

Virgin Trains took over the InterCity West Coast franchise from British Rail on 9th March 1997. If you turned up at Liverpool Lime Street on that morning for a train to London, you wouldn’t have noticed much difference. Your ticket still had that familiar double arrow logo. The train would have been the same type that had been on that service the previous day. It probably still had “INTERCITY” painted on its side.

Gradually, things began to change. Cheap fares came in with heavy restrictions. The integrated network became fragmented — now there were tickets that restricted you to trains bearing a certain logo. Confused? Not sure which ticket to buy? Sorry, it’s more important that you have CHOICE.

Want to travel to London during the morning peak? The powers-that-be decided that those fares were to be unregulated, dictated only by what the market was prepared to pay. And the prices went up, and up, and up, and continue to rise. Train too busy? We will “yield manage” and price people off.

And if you need help at a station, just pray that there are staff wearing your company’s uniform. “That’s not one of our trains, it’s not our ticket, it’s not on our system. Can’t help, sorry.”

The story was repeated across the rail network. The railway stopped being a public service and became just another corporate entity. And it became less safe. There were accidents – serious, fatal accidents – which can be blamed squarely on corporate greed and penny-pinching.

I can envisage something similar happening with the NHS. It won’t be a sudden change. The first day of NHS plc will probably be no different to what has gone before. The changes will come in gradually – a charge introduced here, some healthy competition there. Pay a little extra for “NHS Plus” benefits. Certain procedures denied because it’s not commercially viable. Our health service will be taken from us piece by piece, and by the time we realise what has happened, it will be too late.

Vote wisely tomorrow.

Brücke-side

On Sunday morning I arrived at Zoologischer Garten station with a Berlin ABC day ticket in hand, ready to travel west to Wannsee. I could have boarded an S-Bahn train, but instead opted for the faster DB Regio service. This had the bonus of travelling on one of DB’s brill double-decker trains, always a novelty for an Englishman constrained by a restrictive loading gauge.

Photo of DB Regio train at Zoologischer Garten

I had decided to continue with the Berlin Wall theme of my visit. Why did I get off at Wannsee? Because there was something nearby I wanna-see. Do you see?

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Another Prick at the Wall

Even teletext got in on the Berlin Wall celebrations. ARD Text broadcast a series of pages reporting the news from thirty years ago, emulating the look of their text service in 1989. Can it get any more 1980s than that?

The centerpiece of the Mauerfall 30 events was a huge free concert to be held at the Brandenburg Gate on the evening of Saturday 9th November. Since I was in Berlin for the 30th anniversary, it seemed logical to attend.

Security was extremely tight. I had been on the Unter den Linden boulevard earlier in the day, and the whole area of the concert was enclosed in a ring of steel. On the platforms of Brandenburger Tor S-Bahn station, DB security staff with loud hailers were directing passengers to a specific exit – all the others being locked. The Brandenburg Gate itself was behind a security cordon with stern Polizei blocking access. Necessary measures, no doubt, but slightly ironic, considering what the city was celebrating.

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The Bahn Association

Sign reading "zum Museum" with arrow pointing

Saturday 9th November 2019 was a momentous day in the history of Berlin. Yes, it was the one day a month that the Berlin U-Bahn Museum is open. By pure luck, its opening day coincided with my weekend in Berlin, so it was a natural choice to while away a few hours on Saturday afternoon.

I arrived at Olympia-Stadion station on the U2 line, to find stands of football scarves and fast food being set up in the ticket hall. Hertha Berlin were due to play at home later that day, and some fans were arriving early. While most made a beeline for the nearby stadium, I headed for the welcoming doorway to the museum, sandwiched between two replica train cabs.

Berlin U-Bahn Museum entrance between two train cabs

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Berlin sees the Light

Turns out the answer to the question “Where next?” was… Berlin.

I last visited Berlin in May 2018, and was starting to feel the itch again. When the cream failed to clear it up, it was obvious that I needed to visit.

I was initially reluctant to venture abroad again, so soon after #TågFärjetur, but the weekend of 8-11 November was the perfect time to go. The city was hosting a series of special events to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, under the heading Mauerfall 30.

Even at two weeks’ notice, EasyJet (sorry Greta) was offering reasonable prices, so off I went.

Easyjet flight on the tarmac at Liverpool Airport

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Botanic, Guards then (#TågFärjetur Part 8)

Sign reading "Sweet but Prickly"

Tuesday 22nd October
Copenhagen Metro lines M2 and M3
1850 Manchester Airport to Liverpool South Parkway

It was our LAST DAY (wah) in Copenhagen. Time and expense meant that taking the train back home was not a practical option, so we had a flight from Copenhagen Airport to Manchester booked for later on Tuesday afternoon.

Before that, though, we had just a little bit more time to check out Copenhagen. Bags were safely stowed in the hotel’s left luggage room, another day ticket purchased, and we descended into the Metro for the millionth time that trip.

Photo of Copenhagen Metro station

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Malmö-ments (#TågFärjetur Part 7)

Monday 21st October
11.47 Copenhagen Hovedbanegård to Malmö centralstation

Our previous hotels had the arrangement with a double bed that can be pulled slightly apart to make two single beds (that six inch gap instantly removing any suggestion of sexual intimacy).

Our Copenhagen hotel, however, had a double bed with a bunk bed precariously above. Paul immediately volunteered to be on the bottom, leaving me to clamber up to the bunk – which had NO railings to prevent falling out should I toss during the night.

Bunk Beds at the CabInn City Hotel

It only occurred to me later that this arrangement was probably intended for a small child, with parents in the double bed below. Thankfully, the bed was still able to support my not insignificant weight – I doubt Paul would have appreciated me on top of him.

Thankfully there were no incidents during the night, and we awoke on Monday refreshed and ready to go. The plan for the day was to cross the Øresund Bridge into Sweden and visit Malmö. Before that, though, we decided to spend a little more time on the Copenhagen Metro.

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Blame it on the Hygge (#TågFärjetur Part 6)

Sunday 20 October (continued)
We rode the Copenhagen Metro quite a bit

For one day only, our dynamic duo became a terrific trio. Joining us for the afternoon in Copenhagen was Mads, who knows Paul thanks to their mutual membership of the Talyllyn Railway. For several weeks each year, Mads makes the journey from Denmark to volunteer on one of the Great Little Trains of Wales. Now that is dedication.

Paul had cajoled Mads into being our tour guide for the day. The slight problem with this plan is that Mads doesn’t live anywhere near Copenhagen. It was like expecting someone from Bristol to successfully show people around Manchester, but I’m pleased to report Mads rose to the occasion and only got lost on two or three occasions.

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A Ferry Enjoyable Journey (#TågFärjetur Part 5)

Day 3 (Sunday 20 October)
09.28 Hamburg Hauptbahnhof to Copenhagen Hovedbanegård

We were back at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof on Sunday morning for the next leg of our journey, the EuroCity train from Hamburg to Copenhagen. As I mentioned in part 1, this was the centrepiece of our whole trip, and our chance to experience one of the few remaining train ferries in the world.

Photo of Customer Information Screen at Hamburg showing train EC33 to Copenhagen

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InterCity Interlude (#TågFärjetur Part 4)

Sign reading "zu den Zügen" (to the trains)

Day 2 (Saturday 19 October) continued:
13.16 Wuppertal Hauptbahnhof to Hannover Hauptbahnhof
15.59 Hannover Hauptbahnhof to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof

I had told Paul all about the train information posters that most German railway stations have. On each platform, a list of every train that will stop there, with a diagram showing how many coaches it will have, and exactly where on the platform you need to stand for your coach. DB can do this, I said confidently, because they are well-organised and it is rare for platforms and train formations to change at short notice.

Then our ICE train to Hannover arrived in a completely different formation to that shown on the poster, and stopped in a completely different position. Oh well.

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