Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Age of the Totalitarian Train

"If The Railway Children movie was made today, Roberta, Phyllis and Peter would find themselves on a terrorist watch list for trespassing on the rail line while trying to prevent a fatal train accident. They wouldn't be heroes; they would be 'enemies of freedom'."  - Thomas Sheridan

I have to admit I love trains. I love looking at them passing by while I am out walking through a lonely stretch of countryside during a summer's evening. Something romantic about the sound of a train in the distance. I love old trains, new trains and I always prefer train travel when the option is there on my travels. You get to see the real locations, real lives and upfront nature of countries and communities while you are sitting inside a train and looking out the window as it passes through the real world. Meandering along on twin strips of iron rails taking you from one place to another. You are up close and personal with the truth of a society when you travel by train.

However, you also see things you wished you had not seen. These depressing sights are becoming more and more common and increasingly universal. The spectacular growth in security/police and bullish behaviours of train staff within train stations and on the services themselves. The paralysing sense of coldness which has set in during recent times hits you like a hurricane as soon as you approach the station turnstiles. The incredibly strict ticketing arrangements which are completely inflexible and ruthlessness enforced with massive fines for making the unforgivable mistake of boarding the wrong train, even though there may be plenty of seats available. It makes no difference to the train operating companies' bottom line. Yet they still bully, chastise and demand you pay penalties for innocent mistakes. It's just another excuse to extort money out of you via bogus by-laws and statutes which often have no legal mandate beyond the perimeter fences on either side of the railway tracks.

In the past, railways and train networks differed greatly from one country to the next. Then something very odd happened about ten years ago and has since replicated itself on rail networks worldwide: the sudden appearance of black uniformed security and ticket checking personnel. These are not your traditional railway men and women; these are quasi-military enforcers. The ones manning the train terminals in central Dublin all appear to be from Eastern Europe. They look and behave like ex-Russian Special Forces, minus the machine gun...for now. Seemingly derived from the same G4S or some other security firms' recruiting drive on the banks of the Volga, and you see them all over Europe now. They have become the 'new normal'. The days of the old railway porter and station platform guard with his peaked cap and shabby uniform have been replaced with someone who could be easily hired from central casting to play the baddie in a 'Die Hard' movie, dressed as if he is ready for a commando mission, and God help you if you have the wrong ticket for the train service you are on.

More than anything else, trains once represented a simple time of almost pastoral innocence to many. My generation grew up on movies such as 'The Railway Children', which celebrated human decency and our natural inclination towards helping one another. The magic of childhood, endless summers filled with clear blue skies and young minds filled with imagination and excitement. Of hours spent sitting on railway embankments watching trains trundle past us while we waved to the passengers and they waved back. 

If 'The Railway Children' movie was made today, Roberta, Phyllis and Peter would find themselves on a terrorist watch list for trespassing on the rail line while trying to prevent a fatal train accident. They wouldn't be heroes; they would be 'enemies of freedom'. By attacking the once-innocent charm of train travel, in some ways you declare war on humanity. Trainspotters taking pictures of trains or writing down train numbers are now suspects. Anorak-wearing potential 'sleeper cells' gathering data for a future attack, to be hounded off the platforms by Yuri from G4S. Having their plastic Tesco bag examined by the cold dead hand of the corporate state rifling through their Bovril flask and sandwiches. A violation of another kind of innocence and harmlessness taking place within another realm of consciousness. The controllers will get us and gaslight us any way they can.

Their attack on the consciousness of the railway passenger and anyone involved in train travel is a carefully orchestrated multi-pronged assault these days. From ruthless security arrangements to a recent announcement that SKY now wants to use train window glass to beam advertisements into commuters; brains. By turning their craniums into loudspeaker diaphragms. Truly, we have entered the domain of Orwellian Telescreen (even worse in many ways) which can never be turned off. Rail commuters are now paying increasingly higher train fares to the likes of (tax payer subsidised) failed balloonist Richard Branson so they can be experimented upon as lab rats by the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Charles 'Slugger' Saatchi, while trapped inside the train. As if commuting to take care of one's family isn't degrading and depressing enough. Didn't the Nazis also change the nature of train travel back in their day too?

It has also become a nightmare for people working on the railways too, as endless health and safety laws have turned them piecemeal into robotic automatons who are just considered another part of the railway infrastructure as the overhead electrical wiring, the signals and the snack trolley. Until very recently, millions of miles of railways the world over were serviced, maintained and built and rebuilt by rail workers and not one of them wearing a yellow High-Viz safety vest, nor a pedantic health and safety expert hovering around them making sure they are wearing the right coloured shoe laces. Yet even with all this, train accidents still happen. The purpose for these health and safety laws is to dehumanise the traditional railway staff. They are just mere cogs in the machine and they'll be made aware of this every day of their working lives.

The train passengers on the other hand are considered potential terrorists who pay for the privilege of being treated like lab rats. During my recent investigation into BBC serial sex killer Jimmy Savile (the 6/6/6 Ripper), I stumbled upon a series of advertisements he did for British rail back in the 1970's. At the time, train travel was a far more civilised experience than it is now. If Savile was alive today, he would probably approve of the psychopathic nature of modern railway operations and spend less time driving around in his white van murdering women with Peter Sutcliffe.

The Railway Children indeed...

1 comment:

  1. That's it - if you don't understand the alpha-numeric gobbledegook on your ticket, and dare to ask for some advice regarding what train to catch; you are looked down upon like some kind of time-wasting imbecile, before being given a canned answer that ends up causing even more conflict and confusion.

    I took a trip from Glasgow to Ipswich recently, and despite the fact that Easyjet is now competing with Ryanair for the title of 'world's most deceptive and exploitative airline', and despite the fact that there is more paranoia inside UK airports than in the mind of your average Secret Service Agent - the rail service was even worse..

    I thought I had walked onto a mobile Gestapo.

    I was given conflicting information, swatted like an insect if I needed any help with directions, and treated like a potential criminal by almost every staff member I encountered.

    I was told in no uncertain terms that the mysterious company codes on my tickets entitled me to catch ANY train from point A to point B, only to be chastised and threatened by a paramilitary ticketing officer after boarding the train, who threatened me with arrest unless I disembarked at the next station and waited for the 'correct' train to arrive.

    Same train, same destination, in no way over-crowded - but a criminal act on my part, due to the indecipherable codes on my tickets.

    Had we not been pulling into a station at the time, I am certain he would have phoned the British Transport Police and arranged to have me punished for my crimes - despite the fact that I had simply acted on the advice that his own company and colleagues had given me.

    Granted - I embarked on my journey on the same day as the 'Woolwich Murder', and so every transport centre I passed through was blasting out paranoid BBC propaganda on enormous TV screens. It would stand to reason that rhetoric like 'vigilance' and 'zero-risk' would have been drummed into public transport staff on that particular day.

    However, all of the above was nothing new. I can recall booking tickets on a Virgin train from Carlisle to Glasgow in 2008, only find that all the coach-class carriages had been over-booked, leaving me and a handful of other passengers with nowhere to sit (or place our luggage) on this 3-4 hour journey.

    Me and another passenger decided that since we had paid for SEATS on the aforementioned train, we would go into the (completely empty) first class carriage in order to sit down - only to be reprimanded and kicked out within five minutes by a vindictive ticketing officer, who forced us to go back out into the doorway and stand for the rest of the trip - on the threat of a hefty fine.

    So yeah - the 'Free Wifi' never works, the power-points will be dead if you're lucky enough to actually get a seat, and you'll be targeted for general abuse and revenue gathering if you dare to act upon the assumption that the staff are there to help you.

    It's all Common Purpose/NLP Brainwashing as far as I can see - making sure that the administrators of public services view the public as some kind of dangerous cattle, and in turn - that the public view them as authority figures - beyond reproach and to be obeyed without question.