People don't "miss" trains, but I think I miss trains... | Jack Marshall's column

This is hard to say, but I think I miss trains.

Monday, 5th April 2021, 7:00 am
A Northern Rail Pacer train (Richard Woodward PA Wire)

People don’t miss trains in the UK. This can be explained quite simply: our rail services are almost always very expensive whilst also managing the trick of being simultaneously terrible, which is a properly head-scratching combination.

On a completely unrelated note, the CEO of one of the UK’s leading train companies took home £1.34m in 2019, a year in which 34.9% of trains were late and in which passengers were hit with fare hikes.

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As someone who used to pay about £200 a month for the pleasure of riding the furious cattle boxes known as Pacer trains to and from work each day, things like cleanliness and chronological reliability are ostentatious demands when it comes to our railways. Lower your expectations. Then lower them some more. And then all aboard the train which is a converted ‘80s school bus.

Used exclusively in the North West of England and Tehran (at least until Iranian transport officials took another look and wisely reconsidered in 2018), Pacer trains are Oscar-worthy bad trains. In winter, gloves and heavy boots are required for those wishing to keep all 20 digits; in summer, carriages can get so sauna-sweaty that discarded gum would hang from under the seats like Hubba-Bubba stalactites.

I was once on a train which had to close an entire carriage because someone had enthusiastically painted it with human excrement. I do not miss this part of trains.

I miss the rolling countryside floating past, slowly evolving as the year tumbles through its four seasons. The low-level hustle-and-bustle at mid-morning in big stations during a summer's day. The lovely old buildings and thousands of other maskless faces. The simple act of travel to somewhere new.

The London Underground with its endless tiers, buskers, rabbit's warren of tunnels, and non-stop movement. It's manic energy. I miss cups of tea from trolleys pushed by friendly train attendants, spreading out a newspaper on a quiet table, watching the sun dance as it flickers behind pylons flying past.

I miss watching strangers' houses go by and grappling with the strange existential concept of other people quietly doing other things constantly, living, thinking, and dying in places I'll never see. The appreciation of size and self that brings.

Train travel is often bad, but it can be so, so good. And I miss it.