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T

here was a time when British Rail not only welcomed bicyclists on board, and sold you tickets to anywhere, and carried your luggage for you, but also made lovely black and white films about it all.
     There was one such film on Channel 4 on Monday called "Cyclists Special", which I happened to catch while trying to escape from the lunchtime news. It made in the 1950s by British Transport Films for the purpose of trying to woo cyclists on to BR trains. Can you imagine British Rail today making a film to lure cyclists on to their trains?
     Even more to the point, can you imagine the Tories' new train authority, RailFiasco, making such a film? Or any film at all ? Except, perhaps, this one...
    
Presenting ...
               POLL TAX ON WHEELS!
     A new film about Britain's new rail system 
     The first production by RailFiasco Films Ltd

Opening shot. Ground level view of track. Suddenly wheels go past at enormous speed, in close-up.

Voice-over: In 1837, Brunel built the main line from London to Bristol. He was a hard-headed businessman. He realised that cars hadn't been invented yet. He ushered in the Railway Age.

Cut to a shot of a disused branch line, overgrown with waving grass.

Voice-over: 130 years later, another great businessman, Dr Beeching, came along. He realised that cars had now been invented. So he shut down as many railway lines as he could find which were not profitable. He ushered in the motorway age.

Cut to a shot of a motorway, full of speeding cars. Pan slowly upwards to a railway bridge, on which there is a stationary 125 HST. The driver is down on the line, phoning the depot for instructions.

Voice-over: On every HST 125 train there is a telephone which the passengers can use. Wouldn't it be nice if the driver had one too? That's something that we at RailFiasco will be looking into. Not doing anything about, just looking into. Another thing we've been looking into recently is how to discourage passengers we don’t want on our bright new rail system. And we're not just talking about bicyclists... !

Cut to exterior of Littlehey prison. Three men run out and hail a taxi.

Taxi-driver: OK, lads. Where to?
Escaped prisoner: Peterborough Station, please.
Taxi-driver: Going by train, are you? Well, I hope you've got a ticket already, that's all I can say, because if you haven't... (he explains to them the difficulties of buying a through ticket...)
Escaped prisoner: Point taken. I think we'll stay here. Sounds less complicated.

They all get out of taxi and go back into Littlehey prison.

Voice-over: So who do we want as passengers? Here's who...

Cut to a shot of a businessman in a 125 train, sitting reading the paper. He's smiling slightly to himself.

Voice-over: This is the traveller of the future. The sort of traveller we're after. The sort of man who will leave his car behind, leave his bike behind, leave everything like luggage and push chairs behind. He's left most of his money behind too. That's because he had to pay for a ticket to get on the train. It's also because he had to pay to go to a place where he could buy a ticket. That's because we've streamlined the fare system - and done away with through ticketing!

Cut to passenger at ticket office.

Passenger: Single to Aberdeen, please.
Ticket-seller: Sorry - you'll have to go to Aberdeen to buy that.
Voice-over: Why have we introduced this crazy system? To keep the trains nice and empty for you!

Back to the businessman in the train. Pan slowly down the coach behind the businessman. There is no-one there. It is empty.

Voice-over: And why are we doing this ? Why are we keeping the trains nice and empty? Why are we making things like ticket-buying impossible? Why are we withdrawing sleepers, Motorail, bike space, everything? Why are we turning Britain's once proud rail network into a broken cobweb ?
     I'll tell you why. Because we at Tory Party Central Office have now decided that the Labour Party is going to win the next election, and we want to mess up everything before they arrive. A retreating army blows up bridges and trashes hotel rooms, doesn't it? We're doing the same with the buses, the trains, the NHS, the heritage biz, the National Lottery, the arts world, the inner cities, the underclass, the prisons...
    
Full list on application

 

The Independent Wednesday Jan 11 1995


© Caroline Kington