ELDERLY Left-wing political leader, failing to find a seat on a crowded train, refuses first class upgrade and elects, instead, to join other passengers sitting on the train floor until a seat becomes available.
Is THAT a story?
Well, yes it is. Not because the gentleman whose discomfort brought this state of affairs to the nation’s attention is a leading UK politician. Nor yet because he is an enthusiastic advocate of the renationalisation of Britain’s railways and saw this as an opportunity (and had the means on hand) to film a partly-political piece to camera.
It is a story precisely because, as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party comrade-critic Chris Bryant put it, “Everybody has had to sit on the floor on a train at some point.”
Precisely. It is a scandal in this age of 100mph-plus travel that trains are so “ram-packed”, to use the Labour leader’s description, that passengers are expected to stand and block aisles without so much as grab handles to cling on to, or to sit on the floor in vestibules between carriages as Corbyn did.
Indeed, it is troubling that while medium- and long-distance bus passengers are provided with seat belts, no such provision is made on trains rocketing along at twice the buses’ speeds.
Corbyn is correct: the 11am train from Kings Cross calling at Newcastle upon a Tyne is invariably ‘ram-packed’, particularly in summer, as it is bound ultimately to arrive in Aberdeen at teatime having carried passengers along the way to the popular tourist destinations of medieval York and Edinburgh in full Festival mode. I know: living in Godzone, the area surrounding beautiful Berwick-upon-Tweed, I have used the line under various operators and sadly, while maintaining food quality and improving drink and wifi provision, Virgin’s carriages are undoubtedly more crowded.
I do not share Mr Corbyn’s ethical aversion to first class travel. Using a senior rail card to reduce the premium cost to standard fare level, I invariably tuck my six-foot-five frame with its spreading waistline into a reserved first class seat, enjoy the free wifi and the food and drink provided and pity the Last Minute Larries who leap aboard only to trawl the train for seats with unused reservations.
I NEVER reserve a seat in any coach describing itself as ‘quiet’: I would far sooner endure overheard mobile conversations (“I SAID I’M ON THE TRAIN!”) than the ordeals of family life lived large, particularly since potentially available seats are filled with non-fare paying under-5s and the aisles invariably crammed with shrieking pre-teens re-enacting the chariot race from Ben Hur up and down the aisles.
Anyway, without overheard conversation where would a journalist find his stories?
Old guys like me and Jezza Corbyn need and deserve a bit of comfort in a seat for which we have paid. Besides, I DID sit on the floor of a rocking Edinburgh-boundexpress once and I shall not do it again.
Why? It took a nurse, two tipsy Glaswegians and the train guard to get me to my feet and out of the train door on arrival in Berwick!