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Tuesday 15th October 2019

Southern Rail must die

Rope

As Southern Rail workers conduct another strike, meaning more misery for thousands, Mouthy Money blogger and commuter MICHAEL TAGGART imagines a Kafkaesque solution.

It’s 4.03am and I’m having dark thoughts again; violent thoughts. The cat mutters contentedly at the foot of the bed – probably dreaming of fish.

I’m not dreaming of fish. I’m staring at the ceiling wondering what sound the man in charge of Britain’s biggest rail franchise would make as a rope tightened around his neck.

I tiptoe to the bathroom, careful not to wake my wife; my lovely, guiltless wife, Helen, who cannot – must not – know the depraved inclinations that consume me tonight. They will pass. Things will get better.

I gaze into a mirror, crestfallen at the drab, flecked face staring back; a face that boasted such taut skin and bright eyes under the salad days of the Connex South Central service a decade earlier. They had food and drinks trolleys back then.

Would I be lionised in history books, the man who publicly hanged three senior Southern Rail executives and Her Majesty’s Rail Minister?

I turn on the tap and it gurgles a strangled, onomatopoeic lament. Would I even hear my prisoner’s pitiful yelps above the approving roar of the febrile crowd, I wonder. Would his eyes bulge in pain and terror as he wished for deliverance? Would I be lionised in history books, the man who, in 2016, publicly hanged three senior Southern Rail executives, a manager in the civil service and Her Majesty’s Rail Minister in a show trial at the end of Brighton Pier?

I smile in a rare moment of mirth. It would be a wonderful party – a real Brighton-style family day out. There’d be hippies high on the environment dancing with their handsome toddlers, muscled gay men high on miaow miaow and homeless Londoners high on Calsberg Special Brew.

Boats full of shirtless and bikini-clad picnickers would buzz happily around the execution site. A coachload of pensioners would warmly greet the return to British justice of the noose, while loudly approving of the proactive politics of the younger generation.

Students from every continent would transform the seafront into a rainbow of beautiful internationalism. Beaming schoolchildren would wave banners daubed expertly with the legend “Southern must go! Hang the CEO!”.

I don’t know his name. I don’t want to know his name. I don’t want to know where he lives or whether he is married with children. For I worry that, even when I know these details, I will still want death.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

There have always been scandals in UK transport; from safety failures that led to the Clapham Rail disaster or the recent Volkswagon emissions debacle, to choking congestion on the capital’s roads or the tragedy of escalating road deaths in the early 2000s.

Arguably, none has been more damaging to public life than the slow death-by-poison of rail services between London and the south coast over a period of years. The economic and human cost is monumental and getting worse by the day.

That poison is an aged concoction of executive greed and incompetence laced recently and devastatingly with a series of increasingly bitter industrial disputes.

 ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Five hours later I’m heading north but barely at Gatwick, rain spattering on the cloudy windows of the 0729 to Victoria Station. My voice is hoarse. There was an argument earlier; shouting, in fact. She said I am moodier than I’ve ever been, less thoughtful, less healthy, less loving.

“Michael, are you there? We’re all ready?”

My phone is hot and brittle against my ear. There are, I think seven or eight people on the other end sat around the table in a City boardroom.

“I’m so sorry everyone,” I say. “I’m afraid I’m on a train. Yes, that’s right, on the train. Can you hear me? Hello? The signal’s terrible. Can we do this another time?”

“But we’re only here to listen to your proposal for…”

I close the call. In truth, the signal had been fine. But I had known that you can’t make business calls on the train line between Brighton and London. You’ll cut out soon enough. And then you’ll cut out again. And then again, until everyone is annoyed. Besides, my mind had been elsewhere.

I return to my thoughts.

I am in a weird, parallel Victoria Station. At the centre of the concourse, a woman in her late 50s is on her knees, wailing, pleading. She’s been stripped to her underwear and her fleshy, anaemic limbs are flecked with saliva, coffee and food tossed from the balcony above. There are fresh and angry bruises where heavy projectiles have found their target.

He rolls an impressive set of medieval oak stocks into the arena before solemnly donning a judge’s wig and clearing his throat.

Hundreds of commuters look on, jeering. They’re there for me, chanting my name – grateful that I have yet again brought the feckless to justice. Even the newsstands sing my praises: “Rail Revenger To Shame Second Victim”.

A stern mountain of a man called Roger, editor of Rail Weekly, has the job of MC’ing at this latest Southern Rail show trial. (I don’t like to get my hands dirty.) He rolls an impressive set of medieval oak stocks into the ad-hoc arena before solemnly donning a judge’s wig and clearing his throat.

“Caroline Briggs,” (names are never original in my imagination), “you are chief operating officer of Southern Rail, an anti-social, feral, degenerate blight on our decent, law-abiding society.

“For years, you have presided over rising fares, late services, vapid, inane social media posts, failing websites and apps, abject compensation pay-outs, lying announcers, poor union relations, surly customer services, deteriorating stock, dangerously packed carriages and the monumental trousering of commuter cash to fund the building and maintenance of your own personal drawbridge and moat.

“Your malign influence on the lives of hardworking commuters is not in question. I am satisfied you have stuck two fingers up to anyone and everyone who has ever used a ticket machine.

The prisoners head and hands are forced without care into the stocks.

“You would hang but for the fact you are not in ultimate charge of the company. Instead you will stay here, where travellers can see you…at their mercy, though you have shown them none…and here you will stay until Southern Rail provides the service it is paid for.”

The prisoners head and hands are forced without care into the stocks. Food and drink missiles take flight.

 ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The current dispute is essentially a stand-off between unions that are using safety concerns to protect future jobs versus a government that is hiding behind ‘modernisation’ to set precedents that will allow it to wield the financial scythe up and down the British railway.

But to witness the Rail Minister attempt to shift the blame entirely on the unions last week was to behold a Government deplorably out touch with the daily misery inflicted on commuters by Southern Rail.

The company has been utterly uninterested in the needs of passengers for months. It is entirely unwilling to provide the service it is contracted to provide.

That is why Southern Rail must have the franchise torn from its deleterious grasp.

This is why Southern Rail must die. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

It’s just before 9pm. Hearing me descend the steps to my basement flat, Helen opens the door and light pours out. She fixes me with a deliberately sympathetic expression, searching my face for clues about my mood. But this is her irritation as much as mine.

In the cliché, the husband is supposed to take a good verbal shoeing from the wife for coming home late, dinner dried out in the oven, wine poured back into the bottle. But in this case, there is no-one to blame so anger must stay buried, hidden, like a hairball in a water pipe.

I head straight for the drinks cabinet and begin to think about death. Not mine.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

What you’ve been reading is satire. It is an extreme exaggeration of how I – how most commuters on Southern Rail – feel on a daily basis. 

But the point is that commuters are being driven to levels of anger they have not experienced before. It’s not ‘directors of finance’ or ‘chief executive officers’ who bear the brunt of this. It’s frontline staff who have no say in how Southern Rail is run.

I hope the company has its franchise removed immediately. It’s the right thing to do.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 

It’s 4.03am and I’m having dark thoughts again…

 

Pic credit: Death Noose by Fraser Mummery

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Michael Taggart

Michael Taggart

Mouthy Blogger

Ex journo turned media agency founder. As likely to be found ranting about trains or his misspent youth as doing anything useful.

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