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Posted by / 20-Mar-2020 23:02

Slow dating shropshire

To reach Birmingham I was forced to alight at a bleak Black Country station, Tame Bridge Parkway, where I had a freezing wait for a service into the city. It’s no wonder the railway’s managers – and some passengers – eventually gave up the ghost. It’s like Wrexham playing Arsenal and then being told to take their best players off.’ But before we shed too many tears for the W&S it should be said that, far from being a plucky little David fighting the corporate Goliaths, it, too, became a subsidiary of a giant multinational – German national railway company DB.

Another ‘open access’ company, Hull Trains, was gobbled up by First Group, which has franchises in Scotland, the Home Counties and the West of England. The real losers are passengers caught in a pincer between soaring fares and ever declining levels of service.

When John Major privatised the old British Rail in 1994, he hinted at a romantic vision of a new era of competition, recalling the days when the old LNER and LMS raced each other to the North with ever higher speeds and ever more glamorous trains such as the Coronation and the Coronation Scot.

That’s certainly how most of us hoped it would turn out. Our great railway system, where once upon a time hundreds of colourful train companies vied with each other to attract business, has been carved up – with the connivance of successive Governments – by a small number of big corporate players who bid vast sums of money for monopoly franchises and receive lavish guarantees from the taxpayer.

For these big conglomerates, such as Virgin, First Group, Stagecoach and National Express, it’s a win-win situation.

If they fall short on their business plans, the Government bails them out.

It is lunchtime and we are travelling through some of England’s loveliest countryside in a commodious carriage where the armchairs are soft and the wide windows offer gorgeous views – in this case over the ‘blue remembered hills’ of A. Lamb in red wine and rosemary sauce with a decent glass of Chilean Merlot. Well it wasn’t until last Friday night when the very last train run by the Wrexham & Shropshire Railway from London Marylebone pulled into Wrexham station at 22.36, bringing to an end not just the services of Britain’s best loved railway company, but an era of gracious rail travel extending back almost 150 years.

And if they fail completely, as National Express East Coast line from London to Edinburgh did in 2009, they can walk away from the worst of the losses and the taxpayer picks up the bill.

There’s no such cushion for aspiring new operators, such as Wrexham & Shropshire, who get no subsidy, can pick up only the crumbs under the Government’s so called ‘open access’ rules by offering services the main firms don’t want and are under often ludicrously restrictive conditions.

The W&S trains passed through Coventry and Birmingham but were forbidden to stop there to protect the commercial interests of Virgin, which holds the franchise for most long-distance services on the route.

Under this crazy system, when I travelled on the W&S I was permitted to get off the train at Wolverhampton but not to get back on again, even though it stopped there.

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