We live in challenging times! It will be interesting to see how the Scottish Parliament succeeds in putting devolved government into a sound working framework. There are numerous adjustments to be made some of them delicate. We must give it time.
Is the 'new railway' regime beginning to get its act together? In a recent issue of 'RAIL' magazine there were signs that it is. Sir Alastair Morton, chairman-designate of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), is clear about its role; it will not run trains, manage infrastructure projects or be responsible for rail safety. "The SRAs mission is to make privatisation work as a public service.... to plan, negotiate and facilitate - not to command and control."
David Bertram, Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee chairman, contributed an encouraging article, from which I quote:
"We must bear in mind that passengers are not only the last to benefit from improvements made and planned, but they're also the first to suffer when things go wrong. Until passengers can be assured that not only will their train run but also that it will run on time, they will not have the confidence to rely on the railway. And successful business is always rooted in confidence... Passengers are not interested in whose fault it is when things go wrong - the so-called 'blame culture'. They simply want what they have paid for. The SRA should start from a single basic premise: the passenger (though sometimes misinformed) is ALWAYS right!..... Perhaps the most important task for the SRA - certainly from the perspective of attracting and keeping more passengers - is to take the lead in promoting Integrated Transport."
Railtrack's 1999 Network Management Statement, while an improvement on last year's, also contains too many conditional words - 'under consideration', 'being evaluated' and 'within a partnership' spring to mind; they want risks carried by external investment. With luck, given time, Sir Alastair Norton will bring them up to speed.
Some of you will have seen the new external livery being applied to class 158 units. You may think me past my sell-by date, but frankly I consider the change utterly deplorable. The design overrides the simple engineering lines of the stock and the colours are harsh and discordant; for all the expense involved it looks garish, vulgar and superficial. An insult to any self-respecting Highland setting. This looks like an especially bad case of change for the sake of change.
National Express have kept the ScotRail brand-name. Why change the livery? Whatever is wrong with the familiar, pleasantly restrained and dignified 158 livery to which we have become accustomed?
Still, at Georgemas they're clearly getting the Full Treatment. My understanding of the new technology admittedly leaves a great deal to be desired, but it seems Railtrack have spent £200,000 on the long-awaited plunger there. Reportedly saving 5 minutes. Half an hour a day. What on earth is it made of - pure platinum? How deep does it plunge? The regenerated roof glazing at Inverness is a great improvement: lets in more daylight and actually keeps out the rain at last. A pity they couldn't run to miraculously house-training the gulls, who have already revelled in undermining its pristine ambience.