Category Archives: Transport

Congratulations Freedom Riders: Keep up the Good Fight!

Enjoyed a lovely rally at lunchtime today, joining the South Yorkshire Freedom Riders at Sheffield station to celebrate their third birthday – and their victories.

The campaign began when free train travel for elderly and disabled people was removed in South Yorkshire, despite it continuing in London and many other parts of the country.

Here’s a report of one of their protests from 2014  – some of the police involved are today facing disciplinary action.

But today was in large part a celebration – complete with cake, for the Riders have won considerable victories – the restoration of free travel for disabled people, and half-priced fares for the elderly.

They’re not resting on their laurels however, and were in fine voice, both chant and song, demanding the restoration of free travel.

I was delighted to speak at the rally, and urged them the Freedom Riders that when they win their direct cause, they should continue to campaign – for railways run for public good, not private profit in particular. (This on the day that we learned a Chinese company – effectively an arm of the Chinese government – has been granted part ownership of a UK franchise).

There was also a speaker from Keep Our NHS Public – a reminder that this is part of a broader struggle, against the disastrous model of privatisation of public services that’s shovelling public money into private hands, cutting the pay and condition of workers and the quality of services.

And a great reminder from one speaker that campaigners need to stick together. She writing urged those present not to downplay other’s campaigns but to acknowledge that everyone does what they can, on issues that touch and move them.

More information

Longterm failure to invest has left the North’s rail infrastructure in a parlous state

The Yorkshire Posts’s interview with Chris Grayling, “I absolutely understand the need for Yorkshire transport investment” could not have been more apt, published on the day the Thinktank IPPR North published a report demonstrating that more than half of UK spending on transport networks is in London.

Current planned London spending is £1,943/person. In Yorkshire and Humber that figure is £190.

This is not just a question of “what is being built at the time”, as Mr Grayling claimed. It is long term under-investment that’s left our rail system in a parlous state, with, as the author of this report points out, it taking longer to get from Liverpool to Hull than it does from London to Paris.

And the slashing of rural and local bus services has left many people unable to travel at all, or forced on to congested, polluted roads when public transport would be a better option.

HS2 is only going to worsen the situation, focusing money, people and resources even more on London.

What’s needed is to abandon that expensive white elephant and make a coherent, cohesive, full plan for travel in Northern England, then invest to deliver it.

That’s something that needs to be done in the North. We know we can’t trust London, either to get it right, or to deliver the cash.

Another fare rise in our failed, privatised rail system

Another chilly January morning, another protest against further rises to what are already the most expensive rail fares in Europe.

From 7am yesterday morning I joined members of Sheffield Green Party at the station to sympathise with travellers, many of whom were facing the rise on their first day back at work after the festive break. Greens across Yorkshire (and the country were doing likewise – travelllers reported to us they’d seen Greens in Leeds, Rotherham and Barnsley.

We were criticising the rise, but more than that, focusing on the failed structure of our privatised rail services, and encouraging people to sign this petition calling for rail to be brought back into public hands, to be run for the benefit of passengers, not shareholders.

This video explains more:

And here’s how our action was covered in the Sheffield Star.

How I got to the COP climate talks in Marrakesh from London by train

Guided by the invaluable Man in Seat Sixty One, I booked my tickets for the journey to Marrakesh a couple of months in advance, which kept the costs down.

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The trip started with a simple Eurostar hop to Paris, then I left Paris Gare de Lyon in the early afternoon for the long but comfortable and relaxed run to Barcelona.I’m working on a book, so the power point by the seat (European plug of course) came in very handy, and glancing up from my work to see the countryside rolling by was very pleasant, as was the chance to get up and stretch my legs whenever I wanted.

I was pleased to find a number of other Britons travelling to Barcelona by train, and I swapped coffee runs with a lovely couple travelling for their daughter’s wedding in the Spanish city. They’d chosen train for its reliability – they’d had some bad times with flights being hopelessly delayed and cancelled, and this was one journey they wanted certainty on.

I overnighted in Barcelona at the one star but surprisingly good Hotel Transit (budget accommodation has improved a great deal since my backpacker days), and the next morning had only a short stroll from the hotel for the 8.30am train.

That whizzed me in high comfort on to Antequera-Santa Ana, where there was time for a quick lunch in the station cafe before boarding the local train to Algeciras. The views along the way were spectacular – the snow-capped Pyrennes, great stretches of olive trees standing strong in apparent desert, and as long as I didn’t glance at the speed indicator I wouldn’t have had any idea I was travelling at 300kh/h. Announcements were in a range of languages, but there was no difficulty in understanding the necessary details. If I got an orange juice when I was trying to order pineapple, that was undoubtedly my own fault in trying to speak Spanish – English would have worked fine.

This was a local, slow train – and one with a great many British accents (this is just inland from Malaga) – but there was still a power point at every seat and plenty of room between the comfortable seats.

Arriving at Algeciras, it was a five-minute stroll to the port. You could see the sea from the train station, and from there I walked straight on to the bus transfer to Tarifa, the port for the fast catamaran across the Med, which took only an hour. It was a sober thought as I stood looking at the sea I was about to cross in air-conditioned comfort, the same sea where so many thousands have lost their lives in a desperate bid for safe European refuge.

But I was soon in Tangier, and settling into the wonderful, economical, comfortably aged grandeur of the Continental Hotel. I’d arrived at 9pm and could theoretically have caught the 9.55pm sleeper to Morocco that night, but I chose to take 24 hours of holiday in the comfortable, relatively untouristy streets of Tangier.

I was able to buy my ticket at the train station next day, left my bags at a hotel nearby, and took the day to explore, before settling into my comfortable £28 couchette – sharing with three Moroccan women – a bargain.

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All up, the trip cost about £200 – the most ridiculous bargain being Paris-Barcelona for 33 euros. It was a great way to travel, and provided excellent work time.

By contrast, my journey home on BA (forced by a long-booked appointment) was a tale of cramped misery. I was probably cutting it fine in arriving at the airport 90 minutes before the flight, then on a fully booked plane I spent four hours packed into sardine conditions. The gentleman beside me had his elbow in my ribs the whole way, he had nowhere else to put it, ditto his knees in my space. I’m seldom glad of being only 1.6 metres – this time I was, for the man on the other side also was in “my” space, for want of any alternative. I didn’t move for four hours – I couldn’t without causing widespread disruption. I couldn’t even reach the bag under the seat in front of me, while my other carry-on bag was travelling in business, for want of any space in the cattle cabin. I didn’t get any work done, and when I arrived at Gatwick, train delays meant it took 2.5 hours to get to King’s Cross station – as long as from there to Paris. It “only” cost £80 – some of the worst £80 I’d ever spent.

Of course there’s no justification for this travel mode costing less – and it doesn’t, if you count the externalised costs of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, noise pollution and taxes avoided. (For aviation is avoiding taxes under worldwide regulations brought in when it was fledgling industry governments wanted to encourage).

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And there’s no single rail ticket to Marrakesh – why not? Without the invaluable contribution of an individual’s website, it would be hard to organise. Governments could do so much more to encourage this mode of travel – if only they had the will.