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The return to Victorian ‘standards’

Having just watched the BBC promote the reintroduction of ‘classes’ on trains, it made me think why they just don’t actually bring the current standards up to a decent level across the board and don’t treat normal working folk as cattle in overpacked, under scheduled tin cans on wheels. Maybe providing people with actual seats would be a start (a luxury for anyone who currently commutes from Wrexham!).


Third-class travel on the railways apparently came to an end in Britain on this day in 1956, when it was renamed by British Railways as “second class”. Yet the class system continued to haunt the railways, and in 1987, British Railways renamed second class as the more acceptable to modern thinking standard class. In reality, the conditions experienced on rail transport has not improved a great deal since then, in fact, it has gone backwards in most areas with many services, especially in Wales, running on out of date rolling stock.


Britain is notorious for its ingrained class system and nowhere was the division between the well-to-do and the less well-off more visible than on the railways during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The upper class would enjoy the comforts of first-class travel, with middle classes having less comfortable surroundings in second, and for the workers, there was third which was originally little more than an open wagon.


In 2013, a leaked document, which drew a furious reaction from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union, appeared to suggest the Department of Transport at that time were considering a form of it on the East Coast Main Line who were forced to deny it was planning to require a “third-class service” after a three-tier system was included in a leaked franchise prospectus ahead of a return to private ownership.


Now these divisions are being re-introduced as a new “Premium Economy” service has been launched in the UK by Avanti West Coast, offering customers three classes of travel for the first time since 1956. This ‘class’ gives customers access to more seats, more foot space and guaranteed tables. The new travel class sits between first class and standard services as a middle rate tier. AWC has replaced Virgin Trains on the West Coast Main Line and runs lines from London to Glasgow and Edinburgh, with routes to Manchester, Liverpool as well, so expect these classes to be introduced across the network.


The ‘commoners’ will be riding in open trucks at the back of trains before long, with the intimation that if you don’t have a company expense account, you shouldn’t be travelling 1st class. It looks like the arrogance with which the Tories now regard the country’s populations has now reached the stage whereas they can show their true colours and widen the ‘Have and Have Nots’ gap, dividing society once again.

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