If the rail strikes aren’t all over before Christmas, a spiral of decline will resume

The Christmas period is already going to be difficult for a lot of travellers, writes Simon Calder. If the rail disputes aren’t solved there’ll be plenty of New Year’s resolutions to stay clear of trains

Monday 05 December 2022 13:54 GMT
Stranded at Christmas?
Stranded at Christmas? (Getty)

Pre-pone” is a term used in India that deserves to be more widely used, especially in the realm of travel. I am writing to you aboard the 2.45pm from Charing Cross, London to Hastings – a train that, an hour ago, I had no intention of catching. Fortunately, I had checked ahead to see if the single-track, once-an-hour link between Hastings and Ashford in Kent was running normally. No, came back the answer: some trains are cancelled due to an unspecified shortage of something.

Even when no one is on strike, rail passengers are accustomed to a certain amount of business-as-usual disruption. So I pre-poned and bought a ticket to Rye (via Hastings) more hastily than I had expected with the intention of getting to Ashford from there instead.

On these brief days, an afternoon train can be an unexpected joy. The setting sun to the west is anointing the late autumnal hillsides of the North Downs. Trim deep green meadows are embroidered by trees of fiery gold. Bliss. Autumn leaves on the line permitting, I shall make a connection at the exotically named St Leonard’s Warrior Square in about an hour. Which gives me time to worry about state of the nation’s railway – and the people who travel on it, work on it and pay for it.

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