Riding Ghost Buses and Parliamentary Trains

Running along the rails

As critical as I was over Stephen Harper’s stealth cutbacks of such departments as the Canadian Space Agency, the cuts have, at least, been honest, so to speak. They conform to various departmental procedures and things like it are often a part of the normal day-to-day operations of any government. No government in Canada, least of all our current one, has had to go through such hoops as spend £500 a week in order to cut back on rail services without the burden of public consultation. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, seems to have raised such bureaucratic nonsense to an art.

Every Tuesday, at 9.45am precisely, a 50-seat executive coach draws up at a bus stop outside Ealing Broadway station in West London. No one ever gets on and, a moment later, it departs - empty - on a 70-minute trip to Wandsworth Road in South London.

Once there, it waits for two hours and 15 minutes before returning, again carrying no passengers. Welcome to Britain’s most luxurious bus service, paid for by the taxpayer, immaculately clean, punctual to the second and which the Government is trying desperately to keep secret.

This service, funded by the Department for Transport, is not advertised on any timetables or departures screens, and staff at the stations it serves are not even aware it exists.

The “ghost bus” runs simply to allow the Government to escape the embarrassment of admitting that it has closed several sections of railway in West London to passenger trains.

The Times of London has the full story and notes that this one ghost bus is far from the only phantom service operated in order to keep the fiction of regular railroad service on certain lines alive. “Parliamentary trains” operate throughout the country at odd hours, avoiding passengers, just so that the companies can say that service remains on the line.

Which, of course, is just stupid. Would that somebody had the courage to make cuts if cuts were needed and not engage in this rigmarole. On the other hand, a part of me is captivated by the idea of ghost buses and phantom parliamentary trains running through the dead of night, passing empty stations. Imagine being an individual who is able to take advantage of these services, crossing the country in these shadowy vehicles. Who is this person? What job does he do that these services become useful? Is he a government official or a spy crossing the country in secret, or some average joe who has stumbled upon this opportunity, and now risks the ire of government officials who wish to keep the service out of the public eye?

As you can see, there is a story to be had here, somewhere. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be taking it up in the future.

Thanks to Ed Drass for the link.

Actually, now that I think about it, Canada does have a few examples of trains being run under obligation, although none for as frivolous a set of reasons as those seen here. Back in 1991, the Mulroney government cut VIA Rail, but designated a handful of services as necessities because they served remote communities. These included the run between Sudbury and White River, between Montreal and Senneterre, and between Winnipeg and Churchill, I believe.

They also tried to cut the service operating on Vancouver Island between Victoria and Courtney, but the government of BC wagged a finger at the feds and pulled out their documentation of the terms of union. The feds had an obligation to maintain service on this line, said BC, and the courts agreed with that assessment.

To VIA Rail’s credit, the services are still operating, and they’re not hidden. VIA Rail runs them at fairly decent times, and promotes the services as part of its tourism material. Then there is the case of BC Rail, which abandoned almost all of its passenger services in 2002, except for a line between Lillooett and Seton Lake, primarily to serve the remote Seton Lake Indian Band. Rather than use the classic self-propelled railcars that marked BC Rail’s passenger services to that point, the band got these dinky little things. Railway schedules and ticket information are hard to come by.

Mind you, that’s positively luxurious compared to the extreme wilderness package offered to the remote communities along the old Dease Lake line in northwestern BC, using a Utility Transport Vehicle. This line isn’t officially open to the public. I’m frankly surprised the Discovery Channel hasn’t been here with its film crews to shoot an “Extreme Railroads” special.

Further Reading

Clearing a Meme Backlog

I’ve been tagged on two memes. Mike of Rational Reasons and Raphael Alexander both asked me to participate in a meme which asks me to list all of the jobs that I’ve worked in my life. It’s a simple enough process if you don’t expect me to elaborate on my “various temporary jobs”. I think most of my money has been earned on the fact that I can type accurately at 90 words per minute and am good with computers, so I’ve found plenty of work as a temp worker, filling in on office jobs throughout Waterloo Region (often either at RIM or Sunlife) as necessary. These assignments last anywhere from a week to a month, pay fairly well, and provide me with enough variety so I don’t lose interest in a job before the assignment ends.

So without further ado, here’s my list of jobs:

  • Temp worker looking up and writing down postal codes that a database had mangled. (1988)
  • McDonalds crewman serving patrons at the Skydome (1989-91)
  • Various temporary clerical assignments. (1991-4)
  • Temporary payroll clerk and clerical assistant at Budd Canada (summers of ‘94 and ‘95, at union wages. To date, the most I’ve ever earned per hour in my working life)
  • Further temporary clerical assignments (1995-6 — why did they have to call us “Kelly Girls”?)
  • First assigned to data cleanup to the sales database of a rising IT company in the Waterloo Tech Park area. Eventually grew into the role of managing the entire database, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing (call it extreme on-the-job training) (1996-9)
  • Built prototype database of financial indicators for department at Bank of Montreal in First Canadian Place (1999-2000)
  • Planning intern at City of Kitchener (2000)
  • Office and web assistant for Social Planning Council of Kitchener-Waterloo (2000-1, with further projects up to 2004)
  • Administrative assistant for various departments at the University of Waterloo (2002-3)
  • Circulation manager, Alternatives Journal (2003-5)
  • Circulation and office manager, The New Quarterly (2005-6)
  • Writer, Web Designer, Stay at home Dad and Freelance Journalist (2006-date)

That’s the list. I’m called upon to tag five individuals for it, and I choose…

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