A quick post about slow trains

I often moan on Twitter about the uselessness of our privatised railways.  As the late Robert Adley predicted, it has become a sort of “poll tax on wheels”, pleasing nobody and not delivering any measurable improvement in the affairs of the nation.

Those of us who travel often from Portsmouth to London are among the hardier species of commuters, contending as we do with cattle-truck Class 450 rolling stock for a long-distance journey, travelling at an average speed below that offered to commuters to Southampton or Brighton.  Season tickets have risen to new heights while the service bumps along the bottom.  We endured months of delay and disruption over the winter of 2006-7 in the name of “signal upgrades” and “track improvements” and yet the new signals break frequently and the trains still lumber along at the low speeds we have all got used to.  Power supply problems, signal failures, and train breakdowns occur at far too high a rate for what are supposed to be modern trains on modernised track, particularly as they seem to occur so often between Fratton and Havant.

At the weekend I got out an old railway timetable from 1958 which I bought in a moment of curiosity years ago.  If you click on any of the images below, they should appear enlarged.

ABC cover

I’ve tweeted before now that our services are slower than they were in 1958, and it’s from this book that I got the notion – the page for services between Pompey and London is below, all on the “direct” route via Guildford:


You may be able to see from the image that the quickest trains between Portsmouth & Southsea and Waterloo all do the journey in exactly an hour and a half.  True, they don’t stop at Fratton – which these days has as high a passenger count than Portsmouth & Southsea.  But have a look at this film in a minute at the trains that were providing the service in 1958 (all built before World War 2) and you’ll wonder why, with all the sophistication and expense of the new rolling stock, the current journey time can’t be reduced a bit.  So there are a couple more stops?  Why can’t the time be made up with more modern stock?  There isn’t a single journey in 2013 that is as quick as the quickest journey in 1958 between the Town station and Waterloo.  There may be more services now, but the fundamental annoyance that we travel slower now than we did 55 years ago will not stop gnawing away at me.  We certainly don’t have the luxury of a restaurant car (services marked with an “r” in the timetable).

The ABC Guide is split in two, the front half being a hotel directory for destinations in the book, and the rear half being timetables.  Below are a couple of adverts for Southsea hotels – if you look up Portsmouth in the hotel directory, it suggests you “see Southsea” – reflecting the old, slightly snobbish, differentiation between rough and ready naval Portsmouth and the charming resort of Southsea.  The prejudice seems to have revived if anything in recent years as the property market encourages people to emphasise the desirability of their residence (“Eastney Village”, if you please!).


The Royal Beach doesn’t look all that different today, though the artist has taken a bit of liberty with the surroundings of the building!


The Queen’s Hotel is one of Southsea’s architectural gems, although at some point there is a good chance it will be converted into flats.  I think the Strathearn went that way several years ago.


Neither of these two survive as hotels, the Solent being just along a bit from the Strathearn (and again with some artistic licence being taken), and the Pendragon being just over the road from the Jolly Sailor.  At one time “close to the South Parade Pier” was a selling point for a hotel.  I’m not sure it is much of an inducement to stay these days, looking at the bloody mess of the Pier and Harry Redknapp’s failed property speculation over the road from it.

Last point on the trains issue – in 1958 the fare between Pompey and Waterloo was 12/4.  Allowing for inflation, that equates to £11.71 today.  An off-peak fare in 2013 will, however, cost you £31.40!

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2 Responses to A quick post about slow trains

  1. I was initially ‘shocked’ at the lack of improvement in journey times but then recall that my trips on that line always feel like a trip back to sixties with old trains. I haven’t used the line for more than a decade but recall that when using the train from Liverpool Street to Ipswich it was always more modern than the train to Pompey from Waterloo. The train from London to Pompey is definitely the poor relative of the train lines out of London.

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