THERE’S a wonderful scene in one of my favourite films, Network, which features our hero urging his TV viewers to open their windows and shout to the world. “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”
I felt just like that last week with a tale of two rail journeys, each of almost identical distance.
One was from Hartlepool to Newcastle and the other was from Cologne to Dusseldorf.
Both are about thirty miles, but worlds apart in comfort and quality.
If you are a regular rail traveller, you will know that we have a massive difference in quality in travelling north or south from Hartlepool.
The London service from Grand Central has lots of leg room and space to move, but the rolling stock heading up the coast from Northern is really poor.
It’s usually a two-carriage train with cramped seats and, at rush hour times, usually full by the time it has reached us from Middlesbrough.
I’m not trying to suggest that everything on the continent is brilliant and the UK is always bad, but, in this particular example, we are appalling.
Regular travellers to Sunderland or Newcastle might need a box of tissues handy to mop up the tears while looking at my photo taken on the way to Dusseldorf the other day.
Let me stress that this is not an executive or long-distance train – this is the local train on the final leg of my outward journey.
The rest had been pretty good too: Hartlepool to King’s Cross, then a short walk through the underpass to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Brussels followed by a quick change to the Deutsch Bahn (German Railways) service to Cologne, then the short hop to Dusseldorf.
I was in the city for just a few days, but soon felt like a local in using the excellent underground service around the place.
Because public transport is so good, reliable and keenly priced, a very large number of people take the understandable choice to leave the car at home, if indeed they have one at all.
Successive governments in the UK have taken the line that nagging and over-taxing motorists is the best way to get cars off the roads.
It’s so obvious that providing a better public transport option is the way to do it – but I don’t think that the top-end thinking will change in my lifetime.
The other massive lesson we could learn is what happens to a town or city when it has top-class transport connections to reach the place and within it. Dusseldorf has major multi-national companies based here and a thriving IT sector too. It has also built a huge all-year-round tourism economy which we could copy – but more of that next week.
Put simply, a local train journey in the Ruhr region of Germany says “welcome” and a similar journey in the North East gives a different, but equally short, message.