European Year of Rail

By | Category: Travel rumblings

The EU is fond of making a special cause for celebrating.

We see plenty of trains dirty on the outside. How clean are they inside? (As readers will recognise, this is an old image and company signage has altered.)

For example, it has a city of culture and a heritage week usually in September.

Now the EU has named 2021 as European Year of Rail.

This isn’t limited to heritage rail projects but to public rail in the main.

The idea is to promote rail as a sustainable, innovative and safe mode of transport yet, as the EU itself admits rail transport isn’t particularly “green” as it currently accounts for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Rail has to cut its emissions to comply with targets set by the EU.

2021 will also mark a number of important anniversaries for the railways such as the 175th anniversary of the first rail link between two EU capitals (Paris-Brussels) as well as 40 years of TGV, 30 years of ICE and last, but not least, 25 years of Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel upon which so many holidaymakers and travellers rely.

But what state is rail in?

Network Rail’s latest five year plan is called “Putting Passengers First” and, in fairness, it was put together before the pandemic blitzed rail passenger numbers. It says, “We’re becoming a company that is on the side of passengers and freight users” If Network Rail is only just becoming a company on the side of passengers what was it before? Somebody didn’t think before penning those words!

The interior of trains is the responsibility of the train companies. Go to National Rail’s website and it produces a pop-up telling you what passengers should do. there is nothing in the pop-up about what the train companies do.

Take GWR for example. There is plenty of clear advice to passengers but nothing about the company does to keep its trains clean. Cross Countrty does say they clean the equivalent of 264 football pitches each day but I have no idea of how that relates to the number of trains it runs!

It certainly looks clean but how often is each carriage and seat cleaned?

Greater Anglia has a Q&A sections which says why I should travel by rail rather than in my car. There is a lot about greener trains and climate change but nothing about protecting my health. There is a section on what the company is doing to keep you safe but telling me that they have fogging guns and vacuum backpacks doesn’t tell me how often the trains are cleaned on each journey. (How many passengers would know what a fogging gun is?)

Some people have been wary about catching public rail services because of the time being shut in an enclosed tube for hours on end. Short trips might be acceptable but many people prefer the car for longer journeys, it being an enclosed vehicle too but containing just you or you and your family. Surely safer than public transport you might think.

Rail companies and governments will have to do a great deal more to convince many people about how safe it is to travel by rail. Just as cruise ships and airlines have gone to lengths to explain their cleaning and hygiene measures railway companies will have to do the same.

How many images have been released showing trains being cleaned?

I remember compartment trains where about eight or ten people were closeted together. Just as restaurants have temporary “cubicles” for diners, is something similar being considered?

Restaurant staff clean each seat and table after people leave and before the next person is seated. Is that being done on trains? I’m not saying it isn’t being done just that the public doesn’t know.

I remember travelling on many grubby trains. In this Year of the Train and the emphasis on passengers, I and many other regular train  travellers would like to know how clean they really are.

Why am I left thinking that the train companies are just awaiting the vaccine and then all will be all right again?

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