Monday 4 June 2007

The Wemyss Bay Incident

I read about this story on the discussion site.

Wemyss Bay is a small village on the north Ayrshire coast. It serves as the terminal for ferries to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. A train service from Glasgow "connects" with the ferry.

On the day of the "incident" the ferry arrived about 10 minutes late at Wemyss Bay and the 25-or-so passengers rushed up the ramp to the rather beautiful station to make the train connection. You can probably guess what happened next. Yes, the conductor shut the doors and let the train leave a few seconds before any of the passengers were able to board. The next train is an hour later.


The station supervisor, hastily beat a retreat to his booking office and pointed to a sign ,in true jobsworth tradition ,stating that trains would not be held for late boats!
This event has generated a lot of interesting comments, but it seems likely that the conductor may well have been acting rationally - if he wanted to keep his job.

The train itself is operated by First ScotRail but the track and stations are under the control of Network Rail, essentially an arm of the government. Train operators must pay substantial fines to Network Rail should any of their trains run late. But Wemyss Bay is a tiny station with one train per hour, you may think. Yes, but a few miles down the track the line is joined by the one from Gourock with three trains per hour (each way). A little bit further and you're at Paisley Gilmour Street where the line from Ayr and Largs comes in with four more passenger trains per hour in both directions as well as coal trains running up from Ayrshire and aviation fuel going down to Prestwick airport. Ten minutes later you'll be approaching Glasgow Central, the busiest UK station outside London. So a couple of minutes' delay at Wemyss Bay could have led to a series of hold ups, literally down the line, that could have inconvenienced thousands of people, costing goodness knows how much in money terms.

Many of the commenters on the thread work in the railway industry and make it clear that the "jobsworth" conductor had no choice but to signal the train off on time, with or without the passengers.

Needless-to-say, some folk blamed all this on privatisation and the "bean counter" mentality. Forgetting for the moment that it's the quasi-government entity Network Rail that levies the fines, I'd like to defend the "bean counters", partly because I am one myself.

Accountants are there to tell management this:

If you want to do "X"

It'll cost you "Y"

And - this is the most important bit - you can't therefore use the same resources to do "Z".

Or, putting it colloquially, "You can't have your cake and eat it."

That's true whether the system is capitalist or socialist, but capitalism provides the incentives that guide us to use resources in the most efficient manner, as judged by consumers.

In the ideal world there'd be a train waiting for us at the station no matter when we turned up. In fact I'd like my own personal train to be kept ready at Haymarket, steam fully primed, dining car fully stocked, and ready to take me wherever I want to go at no charge. But the world isn't made like that and folk who think it is - let's call them socialists - are deluded. I'll try and remember that next time I'm at Wemyss Bay.

1 comment:

David Farrer said...

Comments made on previous template:

Neil Craig
"I'd like my own personal train to be kept ready at Haymarket, steam fully primed, dining car fully stocked, and ready to take me wherever I want ..." Pretty much a car then though there are rules about not consuming the stock & driving. 
If we had the fully automated rail system I favour it could, in time, be expanded into having large numbers of automatic car sized units without that disadvantage.

16 June 2007, 14:32:29 GMT+01:00
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All this pandering to the customer makes for moral corruption. It's nice to know that in Scotland at least, proper standards are being kept up despite Maggie Thatcher's attempt to foist the poll tax there. The crofters are not again going to be opressed by the land clearances, and the bloody sassenacs can go south where they belong. Scotland stays socialist to preserve our bonds with the USSR forever. We sure as hell will keep the red flag flying here. I say strike!

8 June 2007, 17:39:56 GMT+01:00
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Tony Coggans
We need a dose of the real world here. Para Handy (Duncan Macrae, Roddy McMillan, Gregor Fisher, take your pick) in charge of the ferry and the Railway Children's befriender (Bernard Cribbens) driving the train.

8 June 2007, 11:10:56 GMT+01:00
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Ian Wilson
Oh dear. I had to deal with problems like that, only it was late train passengers arriving for the ferry. If we knew of a delay, and there was no rush to leave, then we might ask the captain to hold on a few minutes. Most of the time it couldn't be held, and you had passengers run up to the check-in at the last second. When told they couldn't board they sometimes replied something like 'But I have 30 seconds to go before departure!' Oh, happy days. 

6 June 2007, 10:07:26 GMT+01:00
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"But the world isn't made like that and folk who think it is - let's call them socialists - are deluded." 
"Royalty" would seem more accurate - and furthermore it seems to work for them!

5 June 2007, 18:14:42 GMT+01:00
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Andrew Duffin
There are worse places to be stuck in, than Wemyss Bay station (Rothesay springs to mind!). 
It's a marvellous Victorian structure with some of the finest cast iron decorative work I have seen. 
Well worth a visit as a destination in its own right.

4 June 2007, 14:18:05 GMT+01:00