National Express to 'ban' trainspotting
'They should go back to running buses'
An almighty war of words has broken out between National Express and The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) over alleged plans to see trainspotters ejected from platforms along the East Coast line.
According to the Evening Standard, the TSSA says it was "told at a meeting" that rail aficionados would no longer be welcome at Doncaster, Leeds, London King's Cross and Newcastle, among others, and the union is none too pleased.
TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty thundered: "Sir John Betjeman will be turning in his grave at this news. It means that the barbarians have finally taken over the industry. Only people with no sense of history would commit such an act of mindless vandalism.
"Young trainspotters have been with us since Victorian times. Now National Express are saying they should be banned because they are a nuisance. These people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. They do not respect the industry or its values. They should go back to running buses."
National Express, however, says the TSSA claim is a load of old cobblers, and that it would indeed allow access to those wishing to admire its rolling stock.
A company spokesman said: "This is nonsense and is more mischief making by the unions. Platform passes will be issued to people including our train spotters who wish to go onto the platforms but aren't travelling. Gating is a franchise commitment. It is part of a contractual agreement with the Government as a condition of awarding National Express the east coast franchise."
Gating, we should explain, is simply a matter of putting gates on platforms to stop fare-dodging ne'er-do-wells sneaking onto trains. The Guardian notes that fare-dodgers are "believed to cost the industry five per cent of its annual revenues - or about £270m".
Accordingly, rail minister Lord Adonis has "asked franchise owners to bid for cash to put gates on stations that are losing revenues to fare evasion".
This will mean, of course, that trainspotters will have to avail themselves of the aforementioned "platform passes", something which provoked Doherty to further protest: "This is news to us and all rail users. Platform tickets have not been seen or heard of since British Rail went out of business in 1996 when the railways were privatised.
"These tickets simply do not exist as far as we know - like so many of National Express's really cheap advance tickets they continue to hype to the general public. No platform tickets have been sold by a private rail company for the past 13 years. This would appear to be a flight of imagination by a company which has once again been caught out running down its services."
It's evident that the relationship between National Express and the TSSA is as cordial as that between Margaret Thatcher and the National Union of Mineworkers. Female employees on the East Coast line recently refused to sport new transparent blouses on the grounds of, erm, transparency, and the union wasted no time in piling into management.
Official Brian Brock protested: "The blouses are simply too thin and too cheap. This is yet another example of National Express cutting costs at every corner."
He concluded: "The sooner National Express realise that they have to run a top-class rail service if they want to attract and retain passengers the better. Cost-cutting penny pinching measures are self-defeating. They will drive away passengers and eventually be unable to afford to pay government the £1.4bn franchise premium." ®
Here's a money-making idea for National Express: Force female workers to wear see-through tops and then charge a fiver a head for "blousespotting" passes allowing the bearer to add this kind of image (NSFW) to his East Coast line photographic portfolio.