British Expat Newsletter:
14 March 2007

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: The age of the train?
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

If you follow the UK news, you’ll have seen that today UK Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander announced the provision of 1,000 new railway carriages for Great Britain’s hard-pressed rail network, to be introduced by 2014. The carriages will be used to lengthen trains in the most congested parts of the network – many of them will go to London and the South East, where increases in passenger numbers have been most marked, but other parts of the network will also see the benefit.

Cause for some celebration, you might think. After all, passenger numbers increased by ten per cent in 2006, so there’s clearly a need there.

On the other hand, the total number of existing carriages in February 2006 was 10,700 – more than ten times the number of new carriages. So the increase in carriages has already been absorbed by the increase in passenger numbers. And when you think that nearly 6,000 of the existing carriages were introduced before 1996, and that it’s still seven years until 2014, it’s unlikely that all of them will still be running by then. Unless of course the operators plan to keep on running elderly rolling stock. (Shurely not…)

As if that weren’t bad enough, the fare structure continues to throw up some ludicrous situations. For instance, a walk-on saver return fare from Penzance to Birmingham costs £106 with Virgin Trains. However, if you buy a saver return from Penzance to Cheltenham (from First Great Western) and a saver return from Cheltenham to Birmingham (from Central Trains), you can still travel on the same Virgin-operated train – as long as it stops at Cheltenham – for just £76.50.

Not that the clerks behind the ticket-counter will tell you that. They’re obliged to sell you the cheapest THROUGH ticket to your eventual destination; they’re also obliged NOT to tell you of any cheaper combination fares. Say you’re travelling from Bristol to Birmingham but for some bizarre reason it’s cheaper to travel from Bristol to Coventry (even though the most direct route is via Birmingham). If you tell the clerk that you’re going to Birmingham, but would like a ticket to Coventry via Birmingham, the clerk is obliged by Network Rail to refuse to sell you the ticket to Coventry.

And on top of all that, it’s probably cheaper to fly anyway, even though the damage done to the environment is vastly greater. But the Government has consistently refused to entertain the idea of a green tax on air travel, for all its proclamations of its commitment to action on climate change – presumably on the grounds that it would be bad for trade. Yet even Tory leader David Cameron has now signed up to that particular idea.

In any case, you may be wondering why the Government’s forking out for all these railway carriages if the railways are in private ownership. Well, supposedly the carriages are to be leased to the train operating companies. But so far, it hasn’t been made clear whether the leasing will be run by Network Rail – the publicly-owned successor to Railtrack which controls the railway lines – or the rolling-stock leasing companies, which are owned by major banks. The rail unions and a number of transport organisations favour the Network Rail solution, not least because it would be a step towards re-creating the coherent structure which was removed at privatisation; and the leasing companies are already facing the possibility of a referral to the Competition Commission because of the high profits their shareholders are receiving. So we can expect an announcement that the leasing companies have got the carriages, then…

“This is the age of the train”? Jimmy Savile would be turning in his grave if he were dead.

Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

Here’s the Network Rail website – as the name suggests, all about the railway network in Great Britain and the publicly-owned company running it:
Network Rail

[Obsolete content and links deleted]

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • sex joke forums
  • trickers shoe factory
  • virginchannel
  • queens legs toronto
  • square keep or tone castle
  • they are his little treasures
  • british pornography local films
  • bjootifool
  • stupid spaniel
  • less more i m turning

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

British Expat Magazine


“People’s backyards are much more interesting than their front gardens, and houses that back on to railways are public benefactors.”

– Sir John Betjeman, Poet Laureate (1906-84)


Jim was applying for a job as a railway signalman. At the job interview the inspector asked him: “What would you do if you saw two trains heading for each other on the same track?”

“I would put all signals to ‘danger’,” replied Jim.

“What if they were going too fast?” asked the inspector.

“I would switch the points for one of the trains.”

“What if the lever broke?” asked the inspector.

“Then I’d dash down the signal box steps waving a red flag”, said Jim.

“What if it blew away in the wind?” asked the inspector.

“Then…” Jim continued, “I’d run back into the signal box and phone the next box.”

“What if the phone was engaged?”

“Well… that case,” persevered Jim, ” I’d rush down out of the box and use the public emergency phone at the level crossing.”

“What would you do if THAT was vandalised?”

“Oh well, then I’d run into the village and get my Uncle Harry.”

The Inspector was puzzled. “Why would you do that?”

“Because he’s never seen a train crash!!”

This entry was posted in 2007 by Kay McMahon. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kay McMahon

Kay has been an expat for nearly 30 years. She set up the British Expat website back in early 2000, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)

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