Southern Railways have thought up a brilliant new excuse for delays and cancellations. It’s brilliant because it combines two old excuses in a new! improved! form. Because of major “improvement works”, large swathes of the railway have had no trains running on them all weekend and have thus got covered in snow and ice. See what I mean? Brilliant.

But do they ever stop and listen to themselves? No doubt the wag who decided to replace the term “engineering works” with “improvement works” thought he was onto a good thing, because it would make it sound like those long hours spent on replacement buses were not being spent in vain, but instead it was all for the sake of making improvements to the network.

Have they forgotten that it was improvement works that led to the Clapham Junction rail disaster in 1988, or do they just hope the passengers have? And do they really think that passengers will be happy with the idea that all those weekends are spent “improving” the railways and not maintaining them? Are people happy with a network that is not being maintained and is therefore likely to start falling apart? Wouldn’t they rather have rails that aren’t broken, points that work, and signals that go red when there’s a train up ahead?

Of course, the network is being maintained – that is what “improvement work” generally means, I think – it’s just that the idea of maintenance is apparently not sexy enough for the Southern public relations people …

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