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It must have started when British Rail decided to change 9.24pm to 2124. 4.59pm became 1659. From that moment travel would never be the same.

Having been called passengers for over a century, the rail industry changed us into customers, just as they started converting main line stations into supermarkets. Go to any sizeable station now and you can be excused for asking “Am I here to travel or shop ‘til I drop?”

Paper tickets for seat reservation became tiny screens which I need glasses to read (when they are not out-of-order). The guard became the Train Manager, the signalman became the signaller, the lineman became the technician, the P-Way Supervisor became the Section Manager while personnel became HR. Meantime Network Rail turned into “”.

Old-fashioned departure boards gave way to poorly positioned TV screens which don’t update when they should and are always bathed in sunlight, making them impossible to read.

Years of design work have ensured that coaches are now built with large windows but the TOCs, with great attention to detail, have managed to locate nearly a quarter of its window seat passengers next to a bulk head. Cases and bags do, of course, have uninterrupted views from their luggage racks.

The 4 inch thick foam seat - which was good for six hours - became an unforgiving 1 inch thick board, hemmed in by an uncomfortable convex arm rest. A drop down steel tray now faces you, positioned in the worst possible place in case of an accident. Standardising door-opening button consoles still seems to be beyond the industry.

You settle down to a peaceful journey only to be bombarded with monotone announcements every time you leave a station, even in the quite coach.

Trolley dollies have clearly been trained to enter a packed carriage about 30 seconds before the Train Manager announces the next station stop, just in time to create pandemonium in the aisles as people fall over themselves to get on and off.

Add to this the plethora of operating companies, ever-changing liveries, the incessant late platform changes and a ticketing system invented by Monty Python and you wonder how passengers (sorry, customers) - having paid through the nose for the pleasure of traveling - ever get from A to B.

We are encouraged to guzzle gallons of expensive liquid so that main line stations can charge us 30p to spend a penny. At least when we start using that continental money we will be able to Euronate!
We are encouraged to guzzle gallons of expensive liquid so that main line stations can charge us 30p to spend a penny.

Progress in all things is essential. Just look at transport down the ages. First we walked; then we harnessed horsepower. Steam soon gave way to diesel; then we hooked up to the electricity grid.

Most people support such improvements. But alongside these helpful and progressive changes are others which prove harder to understand. On the face of it, they seem designed to irritate.

Those working on-track are no strangers to the world of change.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a 17-mile particle accelerator running beneath the Franco-Swiss border, capable of creating black holes by colliding opposing beams of protons. Clever stuff! Following its recent switch-on, a health and safety think tank has come up with a replacement for red and green zone working: black hole working.

In theory, as they don’t actually exist, black holes are the perfect environment for on-track work - delivering absolute safety and total separation of staff from trains.

The intention is to place black holes at strategic locations along the railway infrastructure, to be used as and when needed. To guarantee a steady supply, consultants have entered into a partnership with Transport for London.

For trial purposes, the Underground’s Circle Line is being used as an accelerator when it’s closed overnight. Protons are sent in opposite directions around the tunnels which have been festooned with fridge magnets bought ‘job lot’ from B&Q. They crash into each other near Euston Square tube station.

Unfortunately, tests undertaken last weekend were unsuccessful as speeds of only 40mph were reached. The only holes created were a murky grey colour and therefore not fit for purpose.

I understand that attention is instead turning to a new form of T2, involving computer-generated holographic protection provided by the latest Sony Playstation console. I can’t wait to read the Rule Book module!

Story added 1st November 2008

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