Elephant’s Leg

Half and half

Half and half

Ah, a taste of home. And no, I don’t mean a jar of Marmite or a pint of bitter. I mean a newspaper headline that will be all-too familiar to anyone who is from or has lived in Britain. “4,000 stranded in rail chaos” was splashed on the front page of today’s Bangkok Post.

Rail chaos. Words that are so familiar to the Brit, they’re almost like the lyrics from a favourite childhood song. Nostalgic, even.

The story is that strike action forced the cancellation of the majority of services in, to and from the southern province of Surat Thani, with passengers left stranded or to find alternative means of transport.

These passengers have my sympathies, for I know the feeling all too well. I don’t know how many times I’ve arrived at a train station in the UK to be faced with cancellation notices and information about replacement buses which take twice or three times as long to complete the journey, and which can carry a fraction of the number of passengers.

It’s almost a fact of life in the UK. The fact that such an event made the front page of a national newspaper in Thailand shows how rare it is here. I often compare the public transport systems in Thailand and the UK, or Bangkok and London, and think it’s a matter of national shame that the services on offer in a supposedly G8 nation are often inferior to that of a developing country.

OK, it’s safe to say British trains are more comfortable than Thai ones. A cushioned seat is of course preferable to a wooden one. But that’s assuming you can actually get a seat, as more often than not a British train service will be utterly over-subscribed, leaving all but the most fortunate to stand. And then there’s the price – a journey from London to my home town of Prestatyn, say, would cost me almost 80 pounds for a journey of three to four hours. A similar-length journey here – Bangkok to Hua Hin, say – costs less than ONE pound. It may have wooden seats and may be delayed, but then in Britain you might not get any seat and it will probably be delayed.

Anyway, I digress a little. It’s just that I’ll gladly accept any excuse to rag on the British train network. A lot of people will tell you how much better it was when the government-run British Rail was in control. Which brings me to my next point.

The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is a government organisation and is in charge of the national train network. In light of the industrial action in Surat Thani, many passengers are demanding privatisation. In which case I suggest they look at how that worked out for Great Britain – crowded, delayed, cancelled and severely overpriced services which are inferior to some in the Third World, run by private companies who answer to nobody but the financial bottom line – and while competition usually drives improvement, in the case of the British train network, they’re all as bad as each other.

So I say let the SRT continue as it is. Of course problems such as those experienced in Surat Thani are unpleasant, but they are very infrequent, at least on this scale. Thai trains are not the most comfortable, nor are they the most reliable, but nine times out of ten you’ll get where you want to go without too much fuss, and for a very modest price. Which is very far from the case in the UK.

A privatised rail network? That’s a taste of home I can do without.

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