Train companies impose an anti-bike culture
I think I have detected an unreported war on First Great Western trains. At its heart, integrated transport and climate change.
On Saturday morning I arrived to board the 7.50am train to Oxford. I had cycled from my home to Paddington and proposed to cycle from Oxford to a friend’s house in the north of the city.
Guards at the barrier attempted to prevent me and others from getting on to the platform without a bike reservation. In 50 or more journeys to Oxford with a bike over the last year or two I have never had a reservation.
Having overcome that, I arrived at the bike van at the back of the train (a section of a carriage walled off and arranged with racks for about eight bikes. It was locked and empty. The train guard gesticulated to me to go to the one at the front. It was full.
Two American cyclists had already been prevented from boarding an earlier train. It had left with a full compliment of bikes and almost no passengers. The guard proceeded to tell us that although there were spaces at the back, being a Saturday it was locked and “not in service”. He then told us that under no circumstances would any more bikes be taken on this train.
I won’t go into detail, but eventually the train departed, on time, with the bikes and bodies of myself and the two American cyclists.
Just outside Slough, the train’s advanced train protection system triggered and immobilised the train. I had time therefore to count the number of carriages (eight) and the number of passengers aboard (42). All 42 passengers could have been stuffed into one of First Great Western Trains far from great carriages that pack passengers like so many rows of pigs – still leaving seven empty carriages.
We were detrained. On the train behind – you have guessed it – the cycle van was full. A serious attempt was now made to try to prevent 12 cycles being loaded onto a two-thirds empty train. Sheer force of numbers prevailed.
Now, I accept there was some sort of cycle event north of Oxford and thus an unusual number travelling. But the trains were empty of passengers. The entire culture I encountered with First Great Western Trains was aggressively anti-bike.
Yet not only do we pay to be transported by them (and I would willingly pay for the bike, too, if I had to). Our taxes contribute hundreds of millions of pounds to these companies in subsidies. They could be making a profound contribution to fighting climate change. The government could simply force them to carry more.
Oh, and by the way, this week sees another rail franchise awarded – the South Central contract that serves London-Gatwick-Brighton and other commuter areas around London. I wonder what role climate change and assisting the travelling public to integrate their bikes with the trains is playing in contract negotiations. I think I have the answer: none.