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It's going to much harder to prise motorists out of their cars than I even guessed
Guess what, I've just bought a new car - well a second hand year old car
(What's that got to do with Modern Railways? Ed)
Well, it replaced a car bought 10 years ago, also a year old.
(So you're an impoverished writer who keeps cars a long time. Do our readers want to know that? Ed)
You're missing the point, it's given me a fresh insight into Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's integrated transport policy
(You mean you're going to keep the old car so your wife's hair doesn't get ruffled when she goes shopping on windy days? Ed)
Look, stop interrupting and study the table. I've added my occupational therapy car to extend the sequence. As you can see, the amenities offered by the 1970 and 1988 cars are very similar, while their contemporary rail vehicles showed a slightly greater improvement if anything.
Now jump forward 10 years and look at that specification list for what is a relatively modest machine compared with most company cars. Indeed you can get that full house, including air conditioning in family cars costing under £10,000.
Three decades of cars and trains
year 1970 1988
train Mk2 e/f coach Mk 4 coach
Car price* £17,000 £10,250
Heated rear window/wash wipe Heated rear window/wash wipe
Internally adjustable mirrors
Car price £13,000
Features Radio/CD with Traffic alert
Remote central locking with dead lock Alarm and immobiliser
Electrically adjusted heated mirrors
Heated rear window/wash wipe
Electric driver's-seat height
Headlight level adjustment from
Door open alert
Thing that beeps if you get out with the
All three cars have similar top speed and acceleration are four seat or 2+2 layouts. But new car is hopeless for visits to garden centres.
Choosing a 1998 rail comparator for my new car is not so easy. All we have at present are the Class 365 Networker Express, at a pinch) or the Class 170 Turbostar – also at a real pinch in the Midland Main Line layout.
Now the new Virgin fleets and the Class 460 for Gatwick Express may yet prove me wrong, but rail has, so far, failed signally to match improvements in cars over the last ten years. And most travellers contemplating John Prescott's exhortation to leave the car at home are faced with 1980 coaching stock at best and things like Class 150s and Class 455s and even slam door stock at worst.
And it's not just things like air conditioning and electrically adjustable everything. Take the stereo radio - where another two hours on simulator should see me signed off as competent.
I was in a holding pattern in St Albans while Mrs Ford popped into a graphic supplies shop for a quick purchase. Suddenly Brahms' third piano trio on the radio became Three Counties Radio .
My first assumption was that here was a case of massive electro magnetic interference, but a glance at the display on the radio revealed that this was ‘Traffic Alert' in action. And sure enough the Three Counties announcer was telling me about traffic jams on the nearby M1. Then, without me touching anything, it was back to Julius Katchen's muscular piano playing.
Wow! Where on the train the driver usually has to get down and walk to the signal post telephone to find out what is happening and then tell the passengers or not, my car picks up the appropriate local traffic news automatically.
So with all this comfort and convenience and general high-techery around, is it any wonder that motorists seem to be more resigned to traffic congestion than before?
For example it is a hot and humid summer's rush hour.
Would you rather be standing inside crammed Class 455 or 317, held up by points failure, with all that means in terms of close proximity to sweaty humanity with mobile phones, walkmen, AMT cappuccini and Burger King spicy bean burgers and fries, or sitting in your own air conditioned space in a slow moving traffic queue with a choice of entertainment and up to date travel information?
In other words, we have a much long way to go than I even dreamed to make even commuting attractive to car users. Particularly given that peak hour train capacity is going to have a job keeping up with ridership growth let alone giving new passengers a seat.
That said, when it comes to business 'inter city' journeys, even with my new air conditioned gizmo dripping pocket rocket, rail has and will be the automatic first choice - largely because sitting in a train represents profitable writing time plus scope for research into train catering.
But I suspect that for many business travellers, the convenience and flexibility of the BMW or Mercedes or Jaguar going door to door unfettered by timetables and in your own ‘space' must be desperately alluring.
Cone to think of it, despite WAGN being five minutes from Chez Ford, car is first choice for a cultural or shopping trip in Cambridge . Why, you may ask, given the draconian restrictions on parking in that town?
Well, we park in the multi story at the newish edge-of-town shopping mall. And outside the mall you can get a frequent free shuttle bus which takes you into and round the town centre.
But why not use the train and then shuttle bus to get around? Obvious - the shuttle bus doesn't serve the railway station
So that is why my new car is a revelation. I had not realised what the 1999 motorist takes for granted. In future when I go to see a new train, I shall have much higher expectations. And when train operators talk of boosting ridership by winning travellers from their cars they can be sure of a hard time from me at least.
Now I appreciate that readers who choose not to own cars will consider this paean of praise rank heresy. But note, I have not been in Mr Toad-mode for once. This is about the ambience and facilities the modern car provides - transport as an extension of your home. That is what the railways have to beat - not 0-60 in 8.8seconds, 125mile/hr top speed and superb road holding – poop, poop.