Andrew Martin: I'd let the French run our trains

Their approach to railways is at once hard-headed and romantic

Share
Related Topics

Brace yourself for some business news. A company called Keolis is bidding for the InterCity West Coast rail franchise, currently operated by Virgin. Keolis is majority owned by the French state rail operator SNCF, and it is thought the bid might herald a pitch by the same company to run the London-Birmingham High Speed Two line when that is completed.

I hope Keolis wins both bids, partly because I am in favour of anything that reduces the chance of seeing a picture of Richard Branson grinning. But mainly because the French approach to trains is at once hard-headed – they make the rich pay for them through income tax, rather than putting the burden on the fare-payer – and romantic.

The French do not have trainspotters; they have perfectly normal people of both sexes who share la passion du chemin de fer. These people do not munch Penguin biscuits on windy platforms, but eat proper meals in good restaurants, as I discovered when I rashly agreed to buy lunch in Paris for an expert on the Paris Metro, who, after unerringly selecting the most expensive dish on the menu (trout in morel sauce), pronounced, in Latin, "Prometheus's children are transported in the underground inferno by the power of Jupiter", which is a quote by Fulgence Bienvenue, who built the Metro, and said that sort of thing more or less every day. Any network that has a station called Barbès-Rochechouart is going to be beautiful, and indeed the Metro approaches the French overground railways for sheer style.

But nothing can match the sleek TGV expresses. They look like bullets, and clearly mean business. Their front ends do not have to be painted in day-glo, as is the requirement on our insipid railways. (Are you really going to get out of the way of a 190mph train any faster because it is yellow?) My favourite station is the exotic Gare de Lyon. The whole of the Côte d'Azur is latent in that, just as the whole of Salford is latent in Euston. But I also love wintry, moody Gare du Nord: "In the morning, the first night trains, arriving from Belgium and Germany, bring in the first load of crooks," wrote Georges Simenon.

I assume that if Keolis won the Virgin bid, some of these principles of elegance would be applied. That would involve scrapping the garish, cramped Pendolino trains (the "vomit comets" according to one online commentator), or at least making sure the seats, as opposed to the luggage bays, are correctly aligned with the windows. If Keolis won HS2, I would simply expect the service to work, so that the fat drivers of fat four-by-fours would stop thinking they were atop the peak of British transportation.

Andrew Martin's book 'Underground,

'Overground: A Passenger's History of the Tube', is published next month by Profile

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager - Cyber Security

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Manager for Cyber Secur...

Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst - Application Support - Central London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst (App...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engineer (Windows Server, Exchange Server)

£35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engine...

Investigo: Finance Analyst

£240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum