Column: Our trains are beginning to feel the strain

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Our columnist John Griff recounts a journey to and from London which showed him how our train services are struggling to cope...

For as long as I can remember, going to London by train has always been something of a treat.

As a child, my parents used to take me to Regent Street to see the Christmas lights and also to visit Hamleys toy store. Last weekend that happy tradition was renewed after an interval of 45 years.

Currently, we have a young student rooming with us. Studying at the National Motorsport College at Silverstone, she was due to appear at an event at the Grosvenor House Hotel last weekend, but had never made the journey to the capital from Northampton or, amazingly, used the Underground.

Lois and I took the opportunity to show her the ropes while also taking in the Christmas lights ourselves.

Once we had helped our young charge to her Airbnb lodgings we both headed for Oxford Circus. The festive delights of Regent Street looking up into Portland Square are quite something to see. Huge angels – their wings stretched across from building to building - dominated the view for thousands doing their Christmas shopping and stopping to also take selfies, as did we.

Pausing outside Hamleys, the small boy in me reminded the older me of past visits to this colossal cathedral of toys. My perception may be off now, because it looks somehow smaller, but it’s still every bit that same cathedral. The area is now served by bicycle powered rickshaws taking tourists from place to place and a competitive market has now developed for the most outlandish rickshaw to compete for the business.

We watched customised rickshaws with full sound systems blaring their way up and down Regent Street, attracting as many cameras as clients.

For all the childlike recollection though, what I hadn’t remembered was the sea of humanity flowing through the Underground network and using the bus routes above to get from tourist hotspot to public rail terminus.

Returning to Euston station, we found the concourse flooded with people. I recalled May of this year when the rail timetables changed. Then, I had been on the same concourse heading for a Chelsea Flower Show outside broadcast. I had paused to watch people arriving at the platform either in arrival or departure and wrestling with the new rotas.

Now, six months later the degree of confusion had lessened, but not the size of the human flood.

Fortuitously, with 90 seconds in hand and a little pushing, we made our train.

We didn’t find seats though. The train was packed with travellers and for the entirety of our journey home from London we stood with roughly twice as many people as seats in the carriage.

Approaching Northampton, our guard – with noticeable nervousness in his voice – announced that our eight carriage train was being taken out of service, to be replaced by a four carriage train that was waiting to take people on to the rest of their journeys.

Some were headed for Liverpool – they, too, would be standing for the entire journey and rather more tightly packed than previously.

We weren’t told why the train was being taken out of service and I was amazed by the stoicism of those travellers affected, who simply did as they were asked without question – experiencing another cattle-like experience of public transport.

Public transport prices are on the rise again but service appears to be falling. Is this a portent of HS2?

The small boy who used to play with his toys in his seat has grown into a man just searching for somewhere to sit.

The journey is the same – the experience rather different.