Our rail system is a well defended nightmare, the standard defence being it was worse when previously nationalised, and invariably the ‘stale cheese sandwiches’ come out as the ultimate proof that nationalisation was bad. I’m not convinced. What I do know is that we live in a different age characterised by too many people gobbling up finite resources – in this case seats on trains.
The free enterprise solution is to charge until the pips squeak, creaming of a proportion of profits in investment, the rest going to shareholders – including, no doubt, my pension fund. The other alternative is to regard rail transport as a public investment and subsidise prices via taxation.
Regardless of which side has the better argument, the existing reality involves standing on trains that sometimes never arrive – a metaphysical problem, and a fare structure that defies explanation. It's enough to drive people mad - which many Victorians believed.
It is comforting in such circumstances to read old periodicals like ‘Punch’ to see that, with regard to British railways, somethings never change.
In a satirical side swipe at conditions then, ‘Punch’ suggested the following ‘Rules and Regulations for Railways:
Every passenger in the second or third class is to be allowed to carry a penny candle, or safety lamp into the train…as the directors have kept the public in the dark quite long enough.
No train is to travel slower than an omnibus, let the excursion be ever so cheap, or the occasion ever so joyful.
Cattle are to be separated from the passengers as much as possible, as it has been found, from experience, that men and oxen do not mix sociably together.
No stoppage at a railway station is to exceed half an hour.
No railway dividend is to exceed 100%....
No fare is to be raised more than at the rate of a pound a week.
No third class carriage is to contain more than a foot deep of water in wet weather, but, to prevent accidents, corks and swimming belts should always be kept in open carriages.
The ladies’ carriages are to be waited upon by female policemen.
Every tunnel must be illuminated with one candle at least.
Never less than five minutes are to be allowed for dinner or refreshment. (Perhaps the origin of the stale cheese sandwich with curled up corners)
Queen Victoria of course was above such things.