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We all remember when

That’s the trouble with new years - I tend to look backwards and remember the ‘good old days’. I am not sure it’s a great idea though - I just can’t resist having a rant about how much better things used to be.

These days, companies never miss the chance to tell you how good they are. But is their hype just tripe? Whatever happened to the caring employer? It’s hard to find one on the railway. Not many years ago we had canteens, sports fields, community clubs, a staff bank, an understanding personnel department. There was a cess to walk and stand in safely, not to mention a good pension scheme and travel concessions for all. Railway engineers were top class and managers had dedication to the job.

Now disciplinary procedures are used at the drop of a hat, redundancy hits every department, more nights are worked…and weekends. Maybe the Victorians were no so bad after all?

The modern manager knows how to pad the job out to protect their position. Reports are a fine example, with writers seemingly paid by the word. And they’re becoming increasingly glossy, with bar charts, tables, trajectories and pictures - the designers are having a field day. And then there are the four volumes of appendices offering statistical analysis.

Some illuminated scripts are hand-painted onto velum and take two weeks per ten-line page. Others are being produced in Sanskrit and then transcribed back into Pigeon English by sanskrit4u - a not for profit company.

In 1958, a committee of safety professionals met to determine the optimum calorific value of a railway report pie chart.
Photo: NASA

Then we get to stations. Go back 20 years and we had warm waiting rooms, toilets, clocks and information you could rely on. There were ticket offices, left luggage offices, big platform numbers, wooden seats. There’d be phone boxes and taxis, a newsagent’s kiosk, cycle racks and staff on hand to deal with problems.

But not any longer. Now we have useless shelters with four poles and an elevated roof, perches instead of seats, vandals, rip-off car parks and you can spend a penny for 30p. There are over-priced shopping malls and empty vending machines, the Metro free paper and, if there are any seats, they’ll be cold metal. Whatever happened to litter bins?
Now we have useless shelters with four poles and an elevated roof...

One manager wrote to his staff on the subject of ‘winter preparations’, including advice on ‘how to keep warm’. All banks have five or six tills but only two or three are open at any one time. This ensures that a queue will form in the warm bank, so join it. No one will bother you and you will have a good 20 minutes to thaw out. Leave the bank when you get near the front of the queue. Most towns have several banks so you can do the rounds.

Just how many group hugs can you have in a shift? I hear a rumour that a new rule is to be introduced -

  • after receiving the safety briefing, all staff must engage in a group hug behind a chipping bin or the nearest signalling cabinet

  • the COSS must give mark out of 5 for each individual’s enthusiasm to take part.

So, after all this, what should be cut when the coalition comes a-calling? Get rid of expensive consultants, listen to the staff and take note. Let railwaymen run the industry instead of…

Oh s**t, I forgot to put the bins out.

Story added 1st March 2011

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