Having spent quite a long time waiting on Platform 3 of Manchester Piccadilly train station last year, I can fully testify to the experience of travelling as a pleb on one of Doctor Beeching’s marvellous creations. Your transport is a minimum of 5 minutes late, and even if you reserve a seat, at peak hours you end up with a fat grandma sat on your face, some guy who is usually from Leeds pissed and shouting and swearing down his phone, and your bags positioned precariously on your genitalia.
The food they serve is overpriced and usually in the form of sweaty bits of bread, in between which lies some swollen greenery and god knows what part of what may in a previous existence have been grazing in a field. The quiet zone is filled with people who think that because they have their headphones in, they can play their iPod at maximum volume and none of the other plodders will be able to hear the sodding drum ‘n’ bass that tends to emanate from one of these contraptions. And to top it all off, it costs an absolute fortune for the privilege. It really is getting on the bus for fools.
Sadly, the days where it was considered a luxury and that British Rail were the crème de la crème are long past us, but I have an idea that could revamp the whole system. Going back to my previous statement, nowadays your average train is like getting on the bus, only for longer haul (and twenty times the price). And that got me thinking. Why not put buses on the rail tracks?
Aha, some of you may have just said. But what about the pacer trains you see dotted around the UK? And I totally agree. In 1984, British Rail, in order to cut costs, manufactured “ new trains” for the respective train operators of the UK by taking 1960’s buses that were past their road sell by date, sprucing them up a bit, and putting them on sleepers. And hey presto, train track transport for a tenth of the cost. Genius. Only, the idea was ridiculed from day one, and under the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995, all public transport must be accessible by 2019. Pacers are unable to meet this requirement, so sadly they will have to be consigned to the scrapheap.
Now, this is not to say that travelling on one was like being on the ‘Flying Scotsman’. In fact, the journey I once took from Walkden to Southport was like being on the Western Front, with extra trench foot. But the principle is, in my mind, brilliant. And in a time where we are encouraged to sort through our trash cans and re-use whatever we can, taking clapped out buses and revamping them to cater for the proletariat stuck in a ‘rat race’ is genius.
When I was back at home recently, there were 3 buses in a line of traffic, which is not an uncommon occurrence. So, let’s say that a bus is 12 metres long, with distance in between. So that’s the best part of 40 metres, yet on these buses, drivers included, was a total of 5 people. I mean, what is that about? You could fit all of those people into a Vauxhall Corsa, and think of the space, and more importantly, carbon dioxides you would save from polluting our precious atmosphere. Town centres would have purer air to breathe, and motorists could take back the roads as their own. It is often bemoaned that driving is no longer the pleasure it once was, but just ponder on how much more exciting your journey to work may be when not stuck behind the number 67 trundling down all the back streets, carrying stars of the Jeremy Kyle Show to Jobcentre Plus.
And seen as the only thing that has been closer to death for longer than British Rail has is Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the big bosses there might well be recommended to take up the idea. How cool would it be, instead of taking a dreary 2 coach pacer travelling around the city of London, to travel on a Routemaster train? That was a cool bus, if ever such a thing existed. It would be an experience, and considering the Olympics will soon be in town, it could have been a major tourist attraction and generated much needed revenue for our recession hit land.
The disabled access problem? Well, modern buses have hydraulics that allow them to lower their wheelbases so people with mobility problems can travel, so I cannot see why that cannot be accommodated with trains. Or, even better, design them so the lip of the doorway entrance is level with the platform, then no adjustments to suspension are needed at all.
The benefits are readily apparent for all to see. It means the roads are cleared for those of us that enjoy driving, and less congestion in the major cities will surely ensue, which means that the air will be cleaner for our children to breathe, and we would get home quicker and with (bigger) smiles on our faces. And who wouldn’t want that? Apart from Ken Livingstone.