There used to be two trains an hour going to Victoria. Now there is only one. It used to take an hour and 20 minutes. It now takes an hour and a half. Trains from Whitstable to London are slower and less frequent than they were in the 19th Century.
When we got to the station there was a long queue at the ticket machine outside the station. This is because the ticket office was closed. The notice on the window explained that the office was closed in order to allow staff to perform other duties on the station.
Take a minute to think about that.
Office staff are expected to perform other duties only ten minutes before the busiest train of the day is due to pull into the station.
This is obviously a cost-saving device by Southeastern Rail, the company that runs the train service in our area. There is now only one member of staff on duty, who has to do all the tasks that were once performed by a number of people. The consequence of this is that several passengers were unable to get a ticket in time and were forced to jump on the train without a ticket.
Once we were on the train it was difficult to find a seat as the train was packed. There were only four carriages. My family and I had to sit in separate seats. We were lucky to find one at all. As the train moved further up the line, more and more seats were taken, meaning that, by Gillingham – about half way to London – large numbers of people were left standing.
Also the door from our carriage was faulty. It only allowed people through intermittently, which meant that people were unable to get to the toilet, or to move down the train to find a seat.
Such is the nature of our privatised rail service.
The usual justification for the privatisation of services is that it will offer us “choice”.
So where is the choice in the South East region where I live? There are no Virgin trains plying their way to London from Ramsgate and Dover offering us an alternative. There’s no Arriva, or Cross Country, or Chiltern or East Coast, or any of the other 27 or so train companies that divide the rail network up into a patchwork quilt of competing monopolies.
Thus “choice” is an illusion. There is no choice. Most of us, given the choice, would choose a publicly owned, publicly controlled national rail service, accountable to the public.
We would choose British Rail.
Of all the people standing for the leadership of the Labour Party, only Jeremy Corbyn is promising to re-nationalise the railways, something that over 70% of the electorate would agree with according to a recent poll.
Thus only Jeremy Corbyn is offering the electorate a real choice.