Yesterday I decided to go for a 10k run while my son played football. There’s nothing really significant about this. After all, you can only listen to the other fathers shouting at their sons from the touchline for a limited number of games before realising that most of them are taking out their own frustrations, of never having become a professional footballer themselves, on their beleaguered offspring. I never dreamt of being a footballer myself, let alone someone who was paid for it and I’ve already seen enough of my son’s games to know he won’t be earning a living out of it either! So, as you may have gathered, I don’t shout at my son. I’m very pleased he has made the commitment to take part regularly in a team sport of his choosing. I would have preferred that he played rugby but he chose football.
So having delivered him to the pre-match warm-up, I finished my mandatory energy drink, started playing “Now That’s What I Call Running” through the headphones of my mobile phone, hit the ‘Start’ button on my Garmin Forerunner 310XT (available on-line or from all good running shops!) and set off on an unplanned route. Occasionally I like to make up a route as I go along. I’ve been running in the locality of my home address now for over 15 years and can generally combine the knowledge of past runs and ‘piece together’ a route of anything from 4k to a half-marathon.
Anyway, about 7k into my run I found myself needing to cross a level-crossing. When you’re that far into a run and beginning to feel the pain, the last thing you want is for the barriers to come down. If they do come down you’re faced with either waiting the ridiculously long time before the train comes (Why do they go down so early nowadays I thought?) or to keep moving by shuffling up the pedestrian bridge. Thankfully the barriers didn’t come down and I managed to continue my run. However happening upon that particular level-crossing did start me thinking about how things had changed since I was a child.
My grandparents lived less than half a mile from where I had just run and sometimes while staying with them my grandfather would walk me up to that crossing to watch the trains go past. There was a signal box there staffed by at least one person who would, presumably on being informed that a train was on its way, leave the signal box and physically shut the gates to traffic. He would then return to the box and pull a lever lowering (or was it raising?) a signal that would let the train through when it arrived. Now apart from the fact that this seemed far less of a hold up (i.e. I don’t think he closed the gates anything like as long before the train got there as the automated system does) I realised the loss of a ‘level-crossing operative’ was the loss of a job.
This in turn led me to start thinking about the times my grandmother walked me up to the local station to meet my grandfather when he came home from work. Sometimes we would buy a 2d (yes – it was that long ago!) platform ticket each to allow us onto the platform. We didn’t buy this from a machine but from the ticket office that was still open after 6pm. We had to buy such a ticket because there were ticket collectors covering both entrances/exits to the platforms ensuring we had such a ticket and, of course, that all passengers getting on or off the trains had tickets allowing them to travel. So on one station alone, given that I recall some staff being there all the while trains were running, I think that’s at least 10 jobs gone.
As the run progressed my mind drifted onto buses and the fact that every bus had a conductor when I was a child. According to TFL’s website there are nearly 9,000 buses in London. Potentially, given that they must have worked at least two shifts, that’s another 18,000 lost jobs. Many underground trains now only have the one member of staff on board and, as far as I know, there are still plans afoot to close more of their ticket offices.
With 1.97 million unemployed in the UK I think it’s sad that we can’t find them jobs. I for one would like to see ticket offices open for the duration of the timetable. I’d like all closed stations and lines to be reopened so that more people have access to trains and, as a result, more people have jobs. I’d prefer a human being to check my ticket not an Oyster card reader. I’d like a conductor to sell me a ticket for my journey on the bus not pay a fixed price. I think I have more chance of winning the lottery!