WRIGHT THINKING: Misery on the East Coast Line

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I’m always keen on new experiences in life, and I certainly had one on Tuesday when an entire carriage of train passengers burst into laughter.

More in a moment and, sadly, the story has a serious edge too.

I was heading home from London and was due to arrive at Darlington, where my car was parked, at ten past four.

Not far from home, an announcement came over the public address system to tell us that the service would not be going any farther than York and we all had to leave the train there.

After some investigating, it turned out that all services were being cancelled because it had rained and the signals wouldn’t work.

That was bad enough, but that wasn’t what caused the gales of laughter.

We were not offered any assistance except –and wait for the punch line here – we could have our tickets amended so that we could go back to London on the same train.

How that was going to help the majority of passengers remains a total mystery.

The offered solution, then, was to have another few hours on the train, stay over in an expensive hotel, and have another go tomorrow.

Hordes of passengers were milling around on the platforms at York and many were understandably upset and confused.

I’m a frequent and reasonably savvy traveller, and the delay was a mighty and irritating nuisance, but it was really serious to some fellow passengers.

One lady was in tears as she was returning home to Durham where her husband had just suffered a stroke.

She kindly offered to share her taxi but we insisted that she set off alone as her need was much more important than being late for a social engagement for me.

Sadly, not a single person from the station or the train company was outside the station to offer any advice or assistance – no replacement buses, and no idea when any train services would be running north again.

I joined a long queue and eventually found a taxi to make the long and expensive trip to Darlington through teatime traffic.

You may be reading all this and thinking that, as a person who never uses trains, it sounds unpleasant but does it really matter that much?

Let me tell you why I think it matters a lot.

The service up and down the east coast main line is becoming reliably unreliable and cancellations and delays are far too common.

If you had a choice of any location in the country to set up a new business, would you choose a place which had really weak transport links?

In days gone by, business and industry would often be located where the right combination of raw materials existed.

The North East is a classic example, with iron ore and coal deposits giving birth to a huge steel making industry.

These days, people set up in places where living is pleasant and communication links are good.

We pass on test one, but fail badly on condition two.

Even if you avoid the trains, you are beset by long stretches of traffic jams and phantom road works on the A1 and M1.

At a time when huge amounts of money are being spent on Crosslink and the like in London and the south east, we get a few crumbs.

My highly frustrating trip home on Tuesday was a symptom of a real barrier to progress – and future jobs –in an area which sorely needs them.