The same train of thought
Train strikes, don't you just hate them? If you are a commuter they are probably somewhere between the bane of your existence and a constant frustration which you have accepted as a part of life - like Robin in accounts who sits 10 feet from your desk and can't chew food without producing noise equivalent to 1,000 feeding rhinos. Even if a daily commute is not a part of your life, problems with the trains have probably touched you in some way. I am lucky, I currently walk to work and I used to drive to my old job. But I still end up on the train fairly regularly and more than half of the trains I catch must run late enough that they leave me standing on the platform stranded like a soldier awaiting evacuation on D-Day. Often those delays are caused by strikes. At this point I think most of us have gone beyond wondering why the strikes are going on. I half expect them to start applying the same theory to excuses for strikes as they do to train delays. Broken down trains? That makes sense to me as a reason for delays. A missing member of staff? Okay. Leaves on the line? That is straying towards ineptitude. The possibility of wind? I kid you not, that is a genuine region. They are not even trying anymore. But I digress, mostly these days the strikes are caused by a long-running dispute between unions and train company Govia over plans to change the conductor role on the train. The unions say taking away the conductor role, which leaves drivers to close the doors themselves and apparently opens up the possibility of drivers manning the trains alone, is dangerous and puts passengers at risk. In something of a PR SNAFU, yesterday's Evening Standard carried a picture of RMT union boss Mick Lynch on a driver-only train, but I digress.
Yesterday I hopped on a train out of Croydon heading towards Epsom to meet S at the theatre. I swept out of work at 5.30pm and got to the station with plenty of time before my 5.43pm train - it was delayed due to the day's strikes. Later than planned the train crawled into the station packed with a teeming mass of disgruntled commuters wanting to get home. I squeezed myself into a corner and attempted to lean nonchalantly against the glass partition and read the paper as the train crawled out of London and into Surrey. Opposite me a young lady in a black overcoat, wearing glasses, was watching something on her iPad, while an older lady sat calmly on a seat surveying the passengers in the carriage with her. I think she approved of me. As she gave me the full look up and down, not unlike a headteacher surveying a pupil, I was grateful I had chosen a clean blue suit with pink shirt and blue tie for the day. As we rolled into the station at Epsom the final passengers slowly drifted off the train and the overhead speaker crackled into life; you might expect the usual "please mind the gap" message, instead we got "if there is a conductor on-board please could they contact the driver." In my desire to escape the metallic sweatbox, I didn't think much of it until a voice piped up behind me. The older lady looked up, raised her eyebrows and asked: "If it's not safe for the driver to be alone, you would think he'd know if there was a conductor." Good point that lady; had I just been on a train that was both late and not safe? Or are we just fishing for excuses to strike now?
Evening Standard front page from George Osborne's Twitter account