Posts Tagged ‘National Railway Museum’

Damian Green, MP arrested for doing his job

Friday, 28 November 2008

Links updated


Damian Green MP, reading a statement to journalists, late on Thursday night, shortly after his release by police. Frame from BBC video.

(Click to see video on BBC website.)

Damian Green, MP, the Conservative shadow immigration minister, was arrested by counter terrorism police in his constituency home in Ashford Kent at 13:50 yesterday afternoon and held in detention for nine hours. One the face of of it this is a matter far removed from the usual subject matter of Behind The Water Tower, but please read on, all will be explained. Mr Green’s supposed crime had been the leaking to journalists of information, provided by a whistleblower, that was embarrassing to UK Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, MP. Among the information that had reached the public domain was the revelation that Mrs Smith knew that the Security Industry Authority had granted licences to 5,000 illegal workers, but decided not to publicise it.

Leaking information into the public domain, which may be embarrassing to the government of the day, but which is in the public interest, has long been part of British politics. If it hadn’t been for senior RAF officers secretly providing Winston Churchill with detailed estimates about Hitler’s rearmament of Germany – information which the Chamberlin government had tried to suppress – Churchill would not have been able to persuade Parliament to vote for funds to build up Britain’s own air defence. Thanks to Churchill, and the bravery of RAF pilots (including Poles) the Battle of Britain was won and Hitler’s invasion plans were thwarted.

Reviewing Mrs Smith’s record, there is a frightening list of authoritarian measures which she has supported or pushed through: Tony Blair’s attempt to pass legislation allowing the police to hold terror suspects for 90 days without being charged; her own attempt as Home Secretary to pass legislation permitting the holding terror suspects for 42 days without being charged; a central database that keeps records of all mobile phone and email/internet traffic; compulsory ID cards; issuing 10,000 taser guns to the police; issuing instructions that the police can restrict photography; permitting the prosecution of journalist Sally Murer who is charged, like Damian Green, with ‘aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office’.

Examining police actions, there is a disturbing catalogue of recent incidents: the arrest of 82 year old Labour Party veteran Walter Wolfgan under the Terrorism Act, after he shouted “nonsense” during a conference speech by Jack Straw; the killing of Jean Charles Menzies at Stockwell tube station, during an anti terrorism operation; shooting of Abdul Kahar, when raiding a house under the Terrorism act; beating up and arresting veteran anti-war demonstrator Brian Haw.

So what has all this got to do with railways and why am I so angry? All is about to be explained. In the 1970s, I led a campaign to preserve a railway line that had been closed by British Railways. A preservation Society was formed and British Railways approached. BR demanded an immediate payment of £150,000 (equivalent to some £750,000 today) to retain the track. A brown envelope stuffed full of photocopied documents arrived in my office. Among them was a letter indicating that BR were selling the track materials to a scrap contractor for £30,000 and were pressing for the track-lifting started as soon as possible. The revelations in that envelope, which was accompanied by a Southern Region compliments slip signed ‘003½’, galvanised local residents into action.

Then my phone rang and a lady who introduced herself as the local secretary of the Rambler’s Association proposed holding a sit-in demonstration on the railway track as a protest against the track lifting. I was very naive, and as our backs were against the wall, a sit-in, or in this case a ‘sit-on’ seemed a bright idea. One the chosen day, a group of veteran lady RA members, accompanied by their equally veteran dogs, arrived at the place appointed for the demo and placed themselves at my disposal. This didn’t affect the track-lifting very much, the scrap contractors were given half a day off, but caused consternation amongst civil servants in the Department of Transport (as it then was). With my East European connections, I was a Soviet mole, a threat to Parliamentary democracy. What made things worse, the lady who organised the demo was the sister of the British Ambassador in Warsaw. I had struck a blow at the heart of the British establishment.

Hastily counter measures were put in place, my telephone was tapped, an editorial in Trains and Railways by John Snell thundered that I was a ‘political huckster’, my friend John Slater editor of the Railway Magazine advised me that my methods were seen as somewhat unusual and an attempt by the National Railway Museum to loan us one of their railway locomotives was blocked by the head of Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate.

You would have thought that, with opponents such as these, the railway’s fate was doomed. Not so! It was a feature of British parliamentary democracy in the 70s that it operated under a system of checks and balances. The local county councillor put me a thorough political vetting which revealed that apart from a slightly worrying tendency to lean towards locomotives manufactured in Swindon I was no student radical. (It’s OK chaps, I’ve got over it. I was only a kid at the time.) He went on to rescue the railway, from rival by-pass plans, during several debates at County hall. The local MP was also recruited to the cause. He helped save our seaside terminal station from a dodgy development deal. Eventually, the local authorities came round, the track was relaid and the South of England gained one of its most attractive heritage railways.

None of this would have been possible without the active support of local residents many of whom helped to make the railway a local cause célèbre. As I bang my head in despair, because it is easier to get British narrow gauge railway enthusiasts in London to put pen to paper about the closure of the Krosniewice Railway, than to get any such action from Polish narrow gauge enthusiasts in Warsaw, I reflect that 5 years of Nazi occupation, and 45 years of Soviet-style terror, have left their scars on the soul of many Poles. Even youngsters who have never known communism, but who have been taught by teachers who have, often lack that willingness to ‘raise their heads above the parapet’. Although the spirit of those Poles, who have spent some time living in Great Britain and have subsequently returned to Poland, gives me grounds for hope.

In the 1960s and 70s, Poles were astonished that people in Britain viewed policemen with affection and had no hesitation in walking up to them to ask for directions or advice. In Poland the milicia were seen as little better than armed thugs whose main job was to protect those in power against the dissatisfied masses in whose name they claimed to rule. It is profoundly depressing, as the screw of authoritarianism is slowly tightened in Britain, how gradually and imperceptibly the situation is being reversed.



Daylight robbery

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

or how to save £180 on a day trip to York

UK, National Rail Railway Museum, The Great Hall

This week, to coincide with the school half-term holiday, the National Railway Museum in York is holding its 1968 and all that special exhibition to commemorate the passing of everyday steam haulage of service trains from the tracks of British Railways. In the good old days, thanks to a special promotion for off peak trips called cheap day returns, day trips to place like York were quite affordable. But alas no longer. Cheap day returns were abolished on 18 May. The UK government is using pricing to discourage people from going by train. If this was not bad enough, the saver returns that have replaced them are often more expensive than buying two single tickets, which will ensure that a lot of people will pay more for their rail journey than they really have to.

To explain how this daylight robbery works, consider a journey from Reading to York on Monday 2 June. Changing trains at Birmingham, the journey should take less than four hours. Services from Reading to Birmingham and Birmingham to York are operated by Cross Country trains so lets start with their website. A standard open return which is valid on all the mornings trains will set me back £224. Gulp! for that sort of money I could travel right across Europe by rail. However, don’t despair the website reveals something called a business saver. This return ticket only costs £139, but is valid only on the 04:40, 06:10 and all morning trains after 10:40. However, if you restrict your train travel to either of the 10:40, 11:29 trains out and return only by the 18.24 you are eligible to use a different standard open return which sounds more expensive, but is actually £2 cheaper than the business saver. So where does the saver return mentioned earlier come in. Well those who ask are more likely to receive, and if you ask for such a saver ticket you will surely get one of these at £89.20. It will be valid for either the 09:10 or 10:10 out, and on all of the return connections in the afternoon. There’s also a weird variant of the saver return which costs £6.60 less than the ticket just mentioned and applies either to the 22:10 and 23:50 departures on the Sunday, and involves travelling overnight for over 10 hours, or allows you to travel out by the 10:10 (arrives 14:29) and later trains, but only allows you to return on the 19:29 limiting your time in York to a maximum of 5 hours. Presumably this variant was introduced to maintain the statistical fiction that the ‘simplification’ of rail fares has not increased the price.

So should one buy a saver return at £89.20? Not on your Nellie, if we click around a bit more we should be able to reduce that fare by about 50%! After exploring the 7 different varieties of single ticket available you might want to plump for the standard advanced single tied to the for the 06:10 (arr. York 10:29) and another standard advanced single for the journey back home by the 19:35 (arr. Reading 23:18). You get 9 hours in York and pay a total of £46 for the two single tickets! For the sake of completeness it’s only fair to point out that if you only want to explore the NRM and are prepared to leave York on the 18:24 the price of the two singles falls to just £44.

A lot of people will, we fear, either be put of from travelling by rail because their journey seems indecently expensive, or will bite the bullet, travel by rail and pay a lot more than they have to. Sadly it will be those people who don’t shop around using the Internet – amongst whom are those living to a tight budget – who will be hardest hit by the fares ‘simplification’.

More ticket tips: