The farce of a Parliamentary Train

Thursday 8th December 2022

Yesterday saw the final outing for Chiltern Railways’ quirky anomalous once-a week journey between West Ealing and West Ruislip.

It’s been what’s called a ‘Parliamentary Train’ to retain driver route knowledge on the former Great Western line out of Paddington that parallels London Underground’s Central line between Hanger Lane, Greenford and West Ruislip before joining the old Great Central line out of Marylebone now used by all Chiltern Railways’ trains. The idea was train drivers would know the route in the event of a diversion but more pertinently running the limited train service avoided lengthy bureaucratic procedures necessary if no passenger trains ran on a section of line, effectively rendering it closed.

Flashback to April 2016 and the 11:36 to West Ruislip is about to depart Paddington’s platform 14

The train originally ran once a day on weekdays from South Ruislip into Paddington and back from Paddington at 11:36 to South Ruislip and West Ruislip. In May 2017 the northbound journey was altered to run from Paddington non-stop to High Wycombe.

Fast forward to May 2017 and the journey is extended to High Wycombe

HS2 works expected to begin at Old Oak Common in 2019 would sever the line’s connection to the Great Western Main Line but instead of the opportunity being taken to abandon the whole idea of running a train which usually carried no passengers, or at best just one or two die hard rail enthusiasts, in December 2018 the train was diverted instead to terminate at West Ealing by using the GWR branch line between Greenford and West Ealing. From that date it ran southbound from South Ruislip to West Ealing and return to High Wycombe.

The scene at West Ealing in December 2018 when the new diverted service started

In a further cut back after a break during Covid the five day a week service was reduced to operating on Wednesdays only to West Ruislip.

This railway regulatory bureaucratic farce takes a further twist this weekend when the new national timetable sees Chiltern Railways permanently withdraw the train but because it’s a ‘Parliamentary Train’ and no formal procedures have been followed to ‘close’ the track to passenger services (albeit now down to one journey a week) the train is being replaced by a bus still running on Wednesdays departing at 11:17 and running non stop to West Ruislip, arriving at 11:42, six minutes later than the train managed at 11:36.

What a complete waste of money – “hard earned taxpayers money” – at that too. The only people who’ll ever travel on it will be bus and train blog writers who make a habit of riding quirky journeys in their retirement. It hardly justifies the expense of contracting a bus and coach company to run it for them.

Any sane passengers wanting to make the journey other than on a Wednesday at 11:17 can quite easily catch the half hourly GWR service to Greenford and change to the Central line completing the journey in under half an hour – about the same time as the bus will manage. What an absolute farce. All the more so when this Government accuses the unions of not accepting the need for reform, yet it allows this ridiculous situation to continue.

Yesterday’s 11:17 being the last ever direct journey naturally saw the train enthusiast community out in force …

…. who pretty much ensured the thoughtfully provided three-coach train was full on departure.

Not everyone on board was fully signed up to the Track Bashing Society though, I sat next to the delightful Pamela who lives in Boston Manor and having heard about the historic significance of the journey didn’t want to miss out so travelled over to West Ealing to take the ride.

An added bonus for everyone on board was the journey became significantly extended in duration due to the Chiltern main line being blocked just as we approached it at Northolt Junction with a trespasser on the line at Denham.

This caused over a half hour delay while the police rounded up the errant wanderer and we arrived into West Ruislip at 12:10 instead of the scheduled 11:36, no doubt resulting in inevitable multiple claims for Delay Repay.

Going out in fine style.

And next Wednesday’s inaugural bus journey could well be in jeopardy as it falls on an RMT strike day albeit the contractor isn’t involved in the dispute so it will no doubt run, even though GWR and Chiltern will be disrupted.

Only on Britain’s railways.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

19 thoughts on “The farce of a Parliamentary Train

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  1. To develop your theme further . . . there are still plenty of railway stations open that see tiny amounts of passengers each year. My latest statistics are from the 2019-2020 year (so before Covid) . . . if we work on fewer than 10 passengers per week (fewer than 2 per day or fewer than 500 per year), there are 33 stations in the list. If we look at fewer than 1000 passengers per year (4 per day), there are 56 stations in the list.
    These stations require maintenance, they require lighting and cleaning, they delay trains (even if a request stop, trains must slow down just in case a passenger is on the platform).

    My point is that, like “Parly” trains, a DfT determined to drive down costs and modernise the railway could do worse than start the closure process at most of these stations. I’m not necessarily thinking of stations like Berney Arms or Sugar Loaf, where circumstances are different, but like Golf Links, which is under 1 mile from Carnoustie, or Polesworth, served by one northbound train each day, with no southbound platform.

    For sure, there will be a very few passengers inconvenienced, but if they make a good enough case for retaining the station, then leave the station open under the “use it or lose it” banner. If the station is only served by one train a day . . . there is no demand, and hasn’t been for decades, so close it down. Like rural buses . . . people have cars now, and won’t be tempted out of them, even if services are improved.

    The savings per station may be minescule, but every little helps . . .

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    1. One wonders, though, if there are some stations which see few passengers BECAUSE they have few trains and thus offer very restricted or useless journey opportunities. Perhaps if some of these had a more frequent service their use would increase. I wonder, for instance, how Fishguard & Goodwick and Melksham are doing?

      I don’t entirely trust the figures anyway as (for instance) London Zonal tickets wouldn’t presumably show up in the Heathrow Terminal 4 numbers.

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      1. Any attempt to close a station in Britain is doomed to failure as there are always massive campaigns from people who live nowhere hear the station and (more importantly) never use it but always claim they would be “significantly inconvenienced” if the station were to close – see Tonfanau on the Cambrian Coast Line for an example of this.
        If the numbers who object to closure actually used the stations, they wouldn’t be up for closure in the first place.

        I’m not sure why Andrew Kleissner mentions Melksham; it has a two-hourly service which for the size of town is perfectly adequate. I understand that in the south-east anything less frequent than half-hourly is a sign that the world is ending, but for the rest of the country only the conurbations can expect such frequencies.

        Fishguard & Goodwick is somewhere that I wouldn’t have even bothered reopening. It’s very close to Fishguard Harbour station and serves two very small communities, with a total population of just over 5,000. Whilst the service really should be increased back from the Covid-reduced two-train timetable which is currently operating, the seven trains a day it had before probably aren’t justified.

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  2. When I worked in the SRA, a colleague was employed full-time on Closures (throughout the country), such was the amount of bureaucracy involved. I wouldn’t worry about the “waste of money”: it pails into insignificance when compared to, eg, and among many others, the PPE scandal…

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  3. If only bus service withdrawals were held in such thrall to regulations……..This ridiculous situation has been allowed to go on by ALL political parties for a Century, and I genuinely believe few MPs even realise such nonsense is actually on the statute book. Alerting my local MP to the CPC farce at the beginning of the Bus/HGV Driver shortages, discovered he had never heard of this monumental waste of time and money!

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  4. It is an expensive farce, but so are the ludicrously long winded and costly procedures to close railway lines to passenger services (which is the intention to avoid), even where no stations or even journey possibilities are in any way adversely affected!

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  5. Our railway system seems to have been set in stone ever since “Beeching closures”. Realistically why on earth have so many millions of pounds been spent on, for example, the Conw(a)y valley line in the last two decades only. New stations on existing lines take an eternity to arrive and they cost an absolute fortune to install. Even reinstated services on lines still open for freight take decades to implement. Yet politically railways are seemingly more important than buses.

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  6. There are a surprising number of stations in London that have very few passengers

    Heathrow Terminal 4 162
    Sudbury & Harrow Rd 6258
    Drayton Green 7146
    South Greenford 8810

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    1. The figures for Heathrow T4 are utter rubbish!
      I saw more people at the “mainline” HEX/TfL station at T4 last time I was there than allegedly used it all year according to the DfT. The passenger figures will be lumped into Heathrow Central as most tickets aren’t issued to a specific terminal.

      And of course the figures take no account of people using the station as part of the free inter-terminal “shuttle” journey.

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    2. The figure of 162 was during the period when the station was completely closed to the public (because the whole of Terminal 4 was closed from May 2020 to June 2022).

      162 passengers did one or more of the following:
      – bought a ticket that they were unable to use
      – failed to use their Oyster or contactless card properly and somehow had their journey designated as starting or ending at T4
      – trespassed and somehow managed to use the card readers
      – were staff and for some reason used their staff pass to go into or out of the station

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  7. I guess that services run by a differently set up regieme cannot count as sufficient to be a replacement as parallel tracks still carry a passenger service, albeit on LUL’s Central Line. It is rather peculiar that at times when the Wednesday 1117 was not available, National Rail’s journey planner gets you to take the GWR train to Grernford, Central Line to South Ruislip then redicculously the Chiltern Line to West Ruislip. I do wonder if the replacement bus will last as long as the Ealing Broadway to Wandsworth Road Tuesday bus did – that even devrloped a loyal following and the very last one was totally full. There has even been an enthusiast recreation of the replacement service since !

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  8. Before HS2 closed the line from South Ruislip past Hanger Lane into Paddington, this route was used several times a year when the line through Wembley Stadium into Marylebone was closed for engineering works, in which case route knowledge was essential.

    The Hanger Lane rouite was typically used at week-ends and could support 2 trains an hour each way due to the single track sections, not necessarily even interval and quite usual for one direction to have a wait for the opposite train to clear a single line section.
    The 2 trains per hour served the more distant destinations and the all stations to Aylesbury via High Wycombe would terminate a one of the Ruislips.

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  9. The only reason why this sort of nonsense will carry on is because no politician, civil servant or railway manager wants to see the headlines with the dreaded word “Axe” next to their name, with all the opprobrium associated with it. On the other hand, they could become immortalised with a road named after them in their local town, such as Beeching Way in East Grinstead!

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    1. Railway managers are irrelevant, believe me. They just do what they’re told, as the saga of the current negotiations between the “TOCs” and RMT shows, with the DfT and ministers constantly interfering.

      As a very cynical colleague says, the railway is nothing more than a 12-inch-to-the-foot trainset for politicians to play with, allowing them power without responsibility (as they can blame the TOCs for everything people dislike while taking the plaudits for everything good).

      It wouldn’t be so bad if the politicians and DfT actually had a clue what they were aiming for, but it seems they’re just constantly playing to their ‘fans’ (party members/media/whoever).

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    2. There are well over one hundred roads in the UK containing the name Beeching. Yes his name is most commonly suffixed by “axe” or vandal even in contemporary literature and media. He even achieved mentions again with word axe in two episodes of the Archers in I think 2017. A distinction I think accorded to no politicians.

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  10. Re. Melksham – yes, the current service is fine. However until 2013 it only had two trains a day in each direction, which IMO wasn’t much use!

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  11. Why is there no such fuss when bus routes are ceased? It seems to me that many more passengers are inconvenienced or left completely cut off when bus routes cease.

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  12. The replacement bus to West Ruislip got off to a bad start, failing to turn up at West Ealing on 14th (when it should have started) or 21st December. Although it was showing on Realtimetrains on both days earlier in the month, by the time that it was supposed to start it had disappeared therefrom, and is currently showing as not actually running until 11th January.

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