Posted in Railways on Tuesday 13th December 2005 at 10:14pm
Just as I was preparing to leave the house to catch my train to work this morning, the BBC announced that First Group was the winner of the Greater Western Franchise. In one sense, this couldn't have come at a more opportune time - Wessex Trains, under the corporate umbrella of National Express Group - have had an apalling winter. The main problem seemingly a lack of serviceable stock. Since Wales & West dissolved into its constituent parts Wessex has suffered its main maintenance depot being on someone elses turf, managed by someone elses staff. This can't have been easy, but in the past six months, any pretence at providing an effective, timely service using clean rolling stock has been all but abandoned. Standards have slipped - trains are dirty and late, information isn't provided, the 'all new' winter timetable is strange mix of unneccessary new services and illogical withdrawals of well used trains.
I feel somewhat sorry for Wessex staff - or at least some of them. There are some fine people working on trains and in stations for Wessex who are truly embarassed that things aren't going well, and try hard to fix them. But there are too many platform staff who hide from view when something goes wrong, managers who will deny they ever received your letter, or on-train staff who can't care less if anyone has a ticket to make Wessex appear like they really don't want to be running a franchise. And now they won't be.
First Group have their share of detractors, and a nation of bus drivers have their own grisly tales to tell about working for First over the past couple of decades. However, First Great Western have always managed to convey a positive image as far as I can see - attentive, reliable and interested in developing the timetable and growing the business. The Adelante is the acceptable face of modern multiple units - superior to Virgin's Voyager, and schemes like Swindon's fourth platform make sense and get the job done. Their successful bid comes with some sweeteners too - the Night Riviera sleeper will be retained, HSTs will be life-extended pending the HST2 project, and the half-hourly Cardiff service reprieved. None of this would have happened if National Express were in charge, because this kind of improvement to services has never been part of their agenda for the south west, which remains a quiet backwater for tourists to visit for a few months each summer - as evidenced by the advertising liveries I see on my daily commute to Weston-super-Mare!
So, would Highbridge & Burnham still have an evening commuter service if First had been here all along? I like to think so, and I hope that from April we begin to see some of the changes which many other parts of the UK have seen since 1996, but have passed the South West by.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.