Yesterday morning I had a talk on Brunel to do to the Diss U3A. Diss is on the main line from London to Norwich and the inter-city trains are fast and comfortable. Since Brunel was a railway pioneer, it seemed appropriate to take the train. It was a few minutes late, but there was plenty of room, and it really was a pleasure to whistle through the countryside at 100 miles an hour in a comfortable seat without worrying about traffic jams.
Not so the 'other' direction. The 8.09 train to Liverpool Street was cancelled, and I watched from my platform as the other side filled up to an almost dangerous extent. I have heard it said that Chelmsford station is one of the busiest through stations in the country; I have also heard it said that 20% of its population travel to London every day.
Chelmsford station is almost in the middle of the city, and seems to be operating very close to saturation during the rush hour. When it works, it works, but any delay or cancellation during that busy period and the build-up of frustrated commuters can be quite terrifying. And it will get worse. Dwellings are being built around the city centre at an alarming rate, and these are clearly designed for commuters. The extra traffic that the station will have to deal with seems to me to be entirely unsustainable.
What is the solution? There are some improvement works at the station going on on, but since it is virtually surrounded by buildings, there is very little room for expansion. Car-parking is a nightmare with barely ten places available, although there is a multi-storey park close by. The only way out of the conundrum is to put more trains on during rush hour. Currently, the cost of a second class annual season ticket to London is £3,600. It is entirely unreasonable to ask commuters to pay that amount of money, and then subject them to the levels of stress I observed yesterday.
And here's another thought: since the 1820s, railway stations, with the exception of terminuses, have been entirely open to the elements, a practice that is carried on today. Yesterday I stood at Diss station for about 20 minutes waiting for my train. The weather was not too bad, but Diss, whose platforms are the length of an inter-city train, has around 20 feet of roof over the platform on each side, with more than 90% of the platform having absolutely no shelter whatsoever. In the winter, when the north-easterlies are blowing and it's raining, it must be a nightmare waiting for a train. Most stations are the same. We would never dream of asking passengers to wait on rain and wind-swept runways for a 'plane, why do we continue to do it to railway passengers?
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs