When coaches aren’t attached to locos

Posted by Mark Williams on | No Comments
When coaches aren’t attached to locos

Is it in my imagination, or is there a concerted effort by train operation companies to ensure that a ‘rail replacement service’ is as bad a service as they can provide?

The vehicles chosen for rail replacement are certainly variable. When National Express is called in, the quality is excellent, but I have seen coaches at Peterborough which don’t even have a full complement of windows. Though I have no doubt that most coaches provided are serviceable and legal, a great many are out on school work the next morning; they are tired, to say the least.

Speaking for myself, if I were trying to persuade rail passengers that trains are better than coaches, that’s the tactic I would choose; and just to hammer it home, call them ‘buses’ not ‘coaches’ to ensure expectation is as low as possible. The truth is, many rail services are so expensive and so average, for the sake of an extra 30 minutes travelling, many rail passengers would get infinitely better value travelling by coach. Reserved seat, wifi, free newspaper… what’s not to like?

And yes, I am also referring to commuter services. While commuter coach services are experiencing a downturn, this has nothing whatever to do with the quality of those services but chiefly that coaches are mired in congestion and timings unreliable; not that reliability is a particular feature of rail travel.

Politicians neither know nor want to know about coach services; in the rarified atmosphere of their world, if you don’t travel by car, you travel by train. Some people they never want to meet have to travel by bus

On my own patch, Peterborough rail station is buzzing with 2,500 London commuters at 7am, many of whom have paid a staggering £7,750 a year for a 50-minute ride each way. Even saps travelling on the much slower Great Northern service pay £6,500 a year. It frankly beggars belief that some enterprising coach company hasn’t given thought to a competing coach commuter service.

Heading south, a coach service could achieve reliability by daily selecting the A1M or M11 option to sidestep the worst traffic, and hit most of the railheads for the Underground long before hitting the worst of London’s traffic. Pitched at half the price of rail, you’d think potential income of £135,000 a year per coach would be alluring, also offering the opportunity to have a quality coach positioned in London during the day.

But, of course, this rose-tinted view sets to one side the lamentable truth; that, in the Westminster Bubble, coaches simply do not exist. Both Roger Davies and Roger French have justifiably harped on that politicians neither know nor want to know about coach services; in the rarified atmosphere of their world, if you don’t travel by car, you travel by train. Some people they never want to meet have to travel by bus. That’s all they know.

About Mark Williams

Mark Williams has been a transport journalist for almost 30 years. After several years of journalist training, he went on to launch two magazines, edit three and is now Group Editor for ATG Media.

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