Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Great Gating Debate on Britain's railways

For some while now a great debate between the rail industry, government, rail users and other interested parties (the general public who value the routes that were deliberately created at York and Sheffield stations for instance which ease pedestrian flow) has been developing. It revolves around the government and the rail industry seeking to reverse the Open Stations policy of British Railways developed in the mid 1980s and archived in the Forsythe Collection at York. The nuance of the present position is that the 175 year old tradition of platform tickets allowing legitimate access for other interested persons to the station is being abolished. Major stations are to be like airports "airside", only for travellers. Earlier in 2009 I had a letter published on the subject in Rail Management On Line.

This blog reflects a development consequent on a new leaflet being issued. Readers may have seen in the Spring of 2009 the new Natex Your Guide to Ticket Gates leaflet.
1 It lists the stations where they WILL be placed. Like Grantham, York, Newcastle.
2 Platform access is made clear. There will be no platform tickets. Platform access is only for travellers. Anyone "seeing off" (their phrase) can get onto a platform only at the discretion of the station manager. Once on the platform "there will be no return", their phrase.

On several counts this is a stupid document and should be withdrawn. I say that advisedly and will defend this view. That is because the document lacks internal logic.

In truth I have no objection to barriers in the cause of fare evasion. I don't really get their relevance to security. Unless the entire rail network is barriered, malcontents will always be able to plan a way through. And I absolutely think that the whole rail industry should accept - as it used to - that other people apart from travellers have a legitimate cause to access the platform. This always used to be the case, literally for generations. An operator or a government who does not recognise this will need to recognise the offence that they will cause to the general public as a result. Needless disharmony all for want of being willing to sell a platform ticket.

I do want to express a view because I think it deserves saying and being heard in several quarters. I am not dyed in the wool anti gates. I remember when main stations were barriered. The gates as such are not the problem. I don't want fare evasion to continue.
The problem is wonderfully simple. As currently expressed, this new leaflet does it bluntly, the rail industry seems to be saying if you are not travelling you have no business on the platform. That historically was never the situation. It was always if you want to go onto the platform for any number of reasons, buy a platform ticket.

It is this matter which makes me so angry, that about 175 years of accepted tradition and civil liberty is being swept away because the operators are unwilling it appears to sell platform tickets. How is someone seeing off (or meeting which is not mentioned in the Nat Ex leaflet) going to get near a Station Manager to get "permission"? It just does not make any sense at all. The ordinary person will not bother and will just feel their life has been a little more spoilt and interfered with as seems increasingly the case nowadays. It seems to be that if you beg nicely enough, you might be allowed through. It used to be that you paid for a platform ticket and you were accorded some respect in return.

The technology to solve the problem is all there, APTIS issued platform tickets with magnetic coding. Why if the rail industry thinks barriers are a good thing go this extra mile to ban access and thereby alienate many reasonable people who might otherwise accept the change without complaint?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Collecting leaflets is much more fun than downloading websites

I am just back from the RPSI railtour around Ireland. What a wonderful success. Full marks to all involved from the society and railway administrations. For me, it was the second tour in a row. Before that in 1986 and 1995 I was over to chase it from the car. 1986 was Westport and number 4 so it was really lovely to be there again in 2009 with the same engine. She can really make steam and her shrill whistle in the Irish landscape was a joy. We could upload hundreds of train bus and tram pictures but for us the one that does it was taken Saturday night by my friend Alex Nelson of Chester Le Track when the two of us had walked the old railway to Westport Quay and found ourselves staring at the pilgrim mountain Croagh Patrick. One day maybe I will get up it and give thanks. And the title? It's a nice little aphorism and explains so much about what we do and going to Ireland to collect transport leaflets absolutely fits the bill. I came back well laden.