The unthinkable has happened... I think I miss trains | Jack Marshall's column

This is hard to say, but I think I miss trains. People don’t ‘miss’ trains in the UK.

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

This can be explained quite simply: our rail services are almost always expensive whilst also managing the trick of being simultaneously terrible, which is a 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 so they could pay more to be late.

Back to the column.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

As someone who used to have the pleasure of riding the furious cattle boxes known as Pacer trains to and from work, 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 in the pylons flying past in the fields.

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 perspective which that offers.

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