BRIGHTON, United Kingdom – Network Rail probably couldn’t have picked a worse weekend to close the London Brighton line for engineering works if they had tried. Unless of course they secretly want to see the railway network renationalised.
God has deigned to smile upon the Labour party this weekend, bathing Brighton with glorious sunshine, yet human actors had other plans. The number one issue on the lips of Labour flunkeys, members and the tribe of journalists decamped from the Westminster bubble to the seaside this weekend isn’t Corbyn’s Trident troubles or his truculent shadow cabinet.
It’s the railway.
Network Rail, the government-owned operator of Britain’s rail tracks is performing long-scheduled engineering works on the London-Brighton line, closing the route to traffic. A fast rail replacement bus service has been laid on by operator Southern Trains to get the Westminster hordes to their conference on time – but they aren’t happy.
Shadow home secretary and former Labour leadership hopeful Andy Burnham, apparently unbriefed about the engineering works that have been planned since 2013, found himself on one of the rail replacement coaches this morning.
Apparently unaware of the distinction between nationalised Network Rail and private Southern Trains, he claimed the disruption was exactly the sort of reason Britain needed to fully nationalise the railways – a key Corbynista cause célèbre:
On rail replacement bus service, near end of nightmare journey to #Lab15, ready to clap loudly when Jeremy mentions rail re-nationalisation.
— Andy Burnham (@andyburnhammp) September 27, 2015
Network Rail themselves insist such works tend to take place overnight and on Sundays, when the railways are used least. Regardless, ITV newsman Chris Ship was very much of the opinion that the long-planned engineering works ought to have been rescheduled for the conference – the date of which was only comparatively recently accounced:
@networkrail It's not as if 1000s of extra people are travelling to Brighton for Labour conference or anything. Next weekend? Last?
— Chris Ship (@chrisshipitv) September 27, 2015
Yet Mr. Burnham may have a point – the dying days of British rail were characterised by chronic under-investment; they hardly bothered making repairs and improvements at all, a fact even TheGuardian CiF writers will admit.
Sure, there’d be a less efficient service, less passenger traffic, less freight traffic, and line closures – just as there was under British Rail. But at least a theoretical future Labour government could command the railway, King Canute-style, to lay on extra trains for the party conference.
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