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Mind the gap: Lake District misconnection sums up what is wrong with our trains

Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a travel issue. important – and what it means to you.

As part of the railway choreography, the scene was exquisite. When the Avanti West Coast Express train stops at platform 2 of Oxenholme station in Cumbria, the doors of all Northern terminals sailing to Windermere on adjacent platform 3 close, in perfect sync .

Oxenholme, if you didn’t know, is a railway junction where the fork leading to England’s largest lake leaves the West Coast Main Line. Many passengers disembarking the express train also wanted to leave the main line for Windermere.

It will include an easy 10 second walk. But with imperfect timing, from the passenger’s point of view, as soon as the door on their arrival train opens, the Northern departure’s diesel engine kicks in and causes the passenger to curse the colored taillights. its red.

“Pay attention to the distance,” as the King said in a special coronation weekend message to rail passengers. In this case, the distance is to wait an hour for the next train to Windermere.

When I witnessed the scene on Wednesday, a predictable drama unfolded: stunned passengers, especially those from lands where train schedules are designed to connect, trying to understand what they’ve just witnessed: a train that serves as an intercity transport of tourists into the heart of the Lake District while evading it all.

This isn’t a rare case of random confusion: it’s a deliberate plan that repeats itself day in and day out. At 10:21, the trains from London and Birmingham arrived – all was well – at the same time the train to Windermere departed.

Passengers were told they had to wait an hour on the platform (thankfully there was a small and cheerful cafe). So, with scheduled journey times stretching to more than three and a half hours, it’s no surprise that people choose to go by car: AA predicts a drive time, from station to station, of less than 50 minute. More traffic, less rail passengers.

This common sight is caused by someone, somewhere, being paid by the taxpayer; railways flooded with subsidies. I appreciate that scheduling trains is a multi-dimensional game: passenger trains of varying speeds and calling patterns must be combined with freight trains on a struggling network. to deal at the best time.

But the branch line to Windermere is an exception. The Northern train runs to the lakeside station, waits 16 minutes and comes back. Reduce the pause time to 10 minutes and the total fun of traveling will increase as passengers from the South and Midlands easily connect. Instead, the railway industry could only bring extreme disappointment.

The director of the North region, Chris Jackson, can do very little. It is not a “legitimate” connection and therefore the ship Windermere cannot be held. “In the case of late services on the West Coast Main Line, we have a well-established agreement under which our Windermere service can and will be suspended for up to five minutes,” he said. to allow clients to connect.”

Intentional morning confusion will not occur next Friday, May 12, as there will be no Avanti West Coast trains running. Aslef union train drivers will be out on the first of three days of the latest round of national industrial action; May 31 and June 3 are other non-travel dates.

This week, I asked Aslef’s general secretary, Mick Whelan, if the train strikes could last all summer. He told me: “I believe so. These are government-led strikes, government-led strikes, government-organized strikes.”

The government, you won’t be surprised to know, disagrees. A spokesman for the Department for Transport called Whelan’s claims “completely untrue” and said: “The secretary of state and the railway minister have changed the tone in a positive and favorable way. for negotiations, including meeting with Mick Whelan on a number of occasions.”

How long until the patience of tourists and taxpayers?

Listen to Simon Calder’s free daily travel podcast about the battle between rail unions and the government


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