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Mark Andrews on Saturday: Bostin'? Yo caw say that in Brum

By Mark Andrews | Opinions | Published: | Last Updated:

*BACK in the early 1990s, I made the mistake of attempting to buy a recently discontinued ‘day-tripper’ ticket at Wolverhampton railway station.

The booking clerk, an unkempt looking man with straggly hair scraped into a ponytail, snorted with derision when I suggested that I had been able to buy such a ticket last time I used the railway.

“We used to have steam trains and Labour governments,” was the reply, which sounded like a carefully rehearsed retort he had used on numerous previous occasions.

Now, I don’t suppose many tears will be shed at this week’s news that Virgin Trains could disappear this year following a ban by the Department for Transport. But while Virgin might not have been perfect, I really struggle to understand the clamour among some people for renationalisation.

Do they have no memory of the wheezy, ancient locomotives, the drab, dirty carriages, and the indifferent staff? The endless strikes, the music-hall jokes about British Rail customer service and soggy sandwiches?

But then you look at those who advocate this. Take, for example, the Bring Back British Rail campaign, whose website is packed with pictures of fresh-faced, placard waving twenty-somethings. What do they know about British Rail? Given that the British Rail logo they use on their website is actually back to front, probably not a lot.

Virgin may not have got everything right, and maybe the next franchise holder will provide a better service. But in its 21 years running rail services in the West Midlands, it at least attempted to reintroduce the concept of smart uniforms and good manners, and of treating passengers as paying customers rather than mere users of a service the state has generously seen fit to provide.

And for that we should be grateful.

*NOT that I can claim to be a regular rail passenger, mainly because the rail service is practically non-existent in the Black Country. And no, Wolverhampton doesn’t count, it’s not the Black Country.

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The point is, while ideologues obsess over the private v public ownership debate, the real issue is how much money is invested in our railways, where it is spent, and where it comes from.

Given that most complaints seem to be about rising fares, I’m guessing big increases there are out of the question, even if surging passenger numbers suggest a certain logic to that. But if the taxpayer is going to foot the bill, then some thought must be given to the concept of ‘no taxation without representation’.

Now if paying a bit of extra tax meant putting proper trains back on the mothballed Walsall-Dudley-Stourbridge line, reconnecting the Black Country with the national rail network, there might be a case to be made. But we all know that is not going to happen.

I suspect greater rail subsidies would mean more spending in areas already well served, particularly London, the south-east, and big cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.

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In other words, white-van-man in the Black Country pays more tax to subsidise well-heeled commuters in the Big Smoke. What’s not to like?

*THERE is something rather dispiriting about the opening-day stampede at the world’s biggest Primark store in Birmingham. Aside from the fact many of these people were from places like Wolverhampton and Walsall, whose own shops need all the support they can get, there is also something distinctly un-British about folk jostling to fill their bags with cheap clothes that will probably be discarded after a few weeks.

What made me most angry, though, was the mannequin wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Bostin’’. In Birmingham? Listen Brummies, that’s our word, a Black Country word. If that’s not cultural appropriation, I really don’t know what is.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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