Last week I met the boss of SW Trains at a ceremony awarding a Secure Station certificate to one of our local stations (Fulwell). We discussed their plans for improving services.
In the mid and late 1990s the railways were a disaster. Botched privatisation caused endless disruption. I was permanently on the backs of SW Trains management over poor service: delays, cancellations and general incompetence.
As I know from daily commuting, the trains are still overcrowded. But they are generally punctual and reliable. Even in the bad winter weather, disruption was minimised. And I was assured that plans are on track to introduce ten-car trains in 2013 to reduce overcrowding. There are still plenty of problems – not least the cost of tickets – but there is improvement overall.
SW Trains has also sorted out some local problems. There is now an extra train in the late afternoon to reduce pressure on Twickenham Station from students. And in July, they will, at last, do something to improve the badly vandalised pedestrian bridge at Teddington.
The improvements are not just local. Last week I heard Virgin Trains, once a laughing stock, apologising for being only 3 minutes late from Euston to Manchester.
I also travel by bus locally and in central London and the combination of more buses and better travel information has transformed the experience (the Underground is a different story).
And public transport is needed when petrol costs are soaring. My car hit £60 a tank last week. Continued pressure on world oil prices is going to force us to change our lifestyles. My wife and I invested in new bikes a few weeks ago, as many others are now doing. This emerging world of buses, bikes and trains – and cars only when necessary – is altogether better balanced.