With obviously nothing better to do, I have been counting passengers on trains running through Cornwall.
The motivation came from reading a recent letter from Martin Bell to the effect that only a handful of people could be found on rail services in the Duchy Obviously I found such an assertion difficult to accept. Mr Bell may be encouraged to learn that I counted 205 people embarking at Penzance with arrival at 11.23. I counted on two occasions over 300 people waiting for the 15.12 from Plymouth to Penzance, and on Monday, September 17, I and 56 others were standing or sitting between two carriages.
I stood until Truro. The 16.26 from Truro on September 19 had over 200 people waiting on the platform. Mr Bell should catch the 10.46 to Penzance and find no space left by Plymouth. I catch frequently the London train from either St Erth or Penzance and over the past year have made more that 25 sleeper train journeys (always a wonderful staff) have never seen numbers bearing any relation to Mr Bell's assertion. Of course, in more winter times it may be that by the time an inter-city train weaves its way into Cornwall numbers can be small, but then he has to realise that something has to come down to go back. It may be that most people in winter arrive during the day rather than later in the evening.
Has he not even seen the figures for passengers travelling on some Cornish branch lines? Last year there were 549,000 journeys for the Falmouth-Truro line, over 300,000 St Ives-St Erth. This is hardly a sign of a rail service on its last legs. Should Mr Bell wish to see the horrors that would arise from a less inter-city service he should actually catch the 10.46 from Penzance. This is a two-car unit and is caught by many people to pick up a London service at Plymouth. He should observe the discomfort to passengers.
His suggestion that buses could replace trains is such a boring shout. Apart from anything else he is forgetting that loading would have to be done by the bus driver or an assistant and obviously unloaded in the same manner, and that takes time. Quite how many buses at certain times that would be needed stretches the imagination, let alone adding more on to the roads.
There are some questions that might be asked of First, but as a very frequent rail traveller they basically run a very good service, generally on time, engage really good staff, run the buffet almost to Penzance on downward inter-city journeys and provide excellent silver service on two down trains, unique now in British train journeys.
What is more important rests in how the West beyond Exeter seems to have no place in recent Government improvement rail plans. Interestingly, several decades ago measurements were made down to Penzance for an electric train service. Recent rail plans conceive this possibility only as far as Exeter, but even that plan stretches away into time.