It’s amazing what you think about whilst running…..

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!

2 thoughts on “It’s amazing what you think about whilst running…..

  1. Definitely should open up some old lines and stations. And cutting too many staff is a bad idea. Don’t forget that back in the day they had porters at Waterloo and other main line stations as well (not that I remember). I think that train travel was relatively cheaper back then as well. Well done on remembering all this and still being able to run 10km. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to do either!!

  2. Yep, you’re right, it is amazing what you think about when your brain hasn’t got anything planned for the next hour or so!
    It’s not just the cost of jobs directly or indirectly connected to the stations, there’s the cost of delays to business people on way to / from work who have to wait in queues of traffic. There is a level crossing at my local station and the barriers go down at least 3 minutes before the train arrives (I timed it whilst standing on the platform waiting for the 9:03 many times in case I needed to run for it at a later date!). The local residents and not so local car drivers, occasionally get so annoyed at the inevitable morning and evening rush hour queues that they petition the local authority and RailTrack to build a bridge over the line. Apparently that would cost £1 million. Seems like a lot of money for a few hundred yards of raised tarmac’ but as the River Kennet and the Kennet and Avon Canal are right next to the station, the bridge would not only have to be extra high to allow the new electric trains to pass under but also extra long to span the waterways, so, guess what? No road bridge for Thatcham!
    There is however an app for that. LevelX gives times and duration for when the barriers will be down. It uses the published timetables and cameras at the station to monitor the level crossing. I downloaded it as use the crossing about 3-4 times a week but unfortunately although an innovative app, and I like the appearance, it is only accurate about 3 out of 5 times. I have sat in a queue watching the barriers lower yet the app says it’s all green to go. So frustrating when I could have driven the longer but quicker way round to destination if I’d known they were going to be down for 10 minutes that can regularly happen. I’d like to say other apps are available at all good internet stores but I haven’t found any others!

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