Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 11th June 2018

BAD week. Two words that hardly sum up how one would describe Cumbria’s current transport issues.

Northern Powerhouse? More like Northern Powerless in this neck of the woods. Carlisle airport has had to delay starting operations until September, but that’s nothing compared to the rail chaos currently afflicting travellers in the South Lakes.

It’s the ultimate in irony. The Lake District preens itself on being awarded world heritage status, an inscription which the tourism industry believes will attract more big spending visitors from overseas.

Well, you come all the way from China or Japan, land at Manchester airport, get on a train and find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere awaiting a bus, which might just be overloaded in any case, to take you to your ultimate destination.

Welcome to the Lake District. Not really. You would have been better off if you’d hired a car when you landed and driven to an area which already has too many cars in the holiday season and would prefer you to take public transport.

The real problem is getting here after you’ve got here, if you see what I mean. It’s a shambles. At a time when transport links with Cumbria should be working full steam ahead, we’re stuck in a depressing syndrome of delays and cancellations. It’s bad enough for locals who need transport to get around. But what sort of image does it present to visitors?

Northern Rail has abandoned services on the Oxenholme to Windermere Lakes Line while it sorts out the new timetable and finds enough drivers to drive the trains. It’s “a very complex situation”, said the operator’s managing director, David Brown, when he spoke to BBC Radio Cumbria earlier in the week. You can say that again.

In a far from convincing interview, Mr Brown agreed that the service to Cumbria had not been adequate. Northern has suspended services on the Lakes Line for two weeks, but for all he was pressed on the matter, he could not issue an assurance that trains would be running again after next weekend.

Two weeks of disruption for travellers. Or two more months on the buses. Crikey, even Butler and Blakey from the old On The Buses TV comedy series would be hard pressed to see the funny side of this. A bad joke more like.

Mr Brown said that services had been put on hold, and buses brought in, to “stabilise” the situation. He went on to speak of the new timetables as a “springboard”. So far, rather than a springboard, it’s been a case of diving head first from a slippery bank and landing splat, face down, in the mud.

Yes, explaining the problems of travel in Cumbria to tourists is that embarrassing. It’s a face down muddy mess. Why introduce timetables when you can’t operate them? Why must Cumbria always come bottom of the pile when it comes to this sort of fiasco?

The Government has it in mind to spend billions on an HS2 rail link between London and the North. Parts of the North that won’t come anywhere near the Lake District.

Northern announced last week it was axing 165 services a day on its patch until the end of July. More misery for thousands of passengers already hit by delays and cancellations since the new timetables were introduced on 20th May.

Not much hope while Chris Grayling remains in charge of transport. His reputation is already rock bottom east of the Pennines and there’s no evidence that politicians of any major party are much concerned about what they see as some hick Thomas the Tank Engine rail line trundling fitfully into the Lake District.

As it stands, kids who use the trains are struggling to get to school, locals can’t rely on services running at all, and visitors drawn from afar by Lakeland’s world quality scenic and literary attractions must wonder if they have landed up in a Third World offshoot.

I wonder, when Carlisle airport’s new schedules do eventually lift off, exactly how visitors landing midway between Carlisle and Brampton are going to travel onwards to the Lake District. There is a need for joined up thinking, one might suggest.

At one end of the county there’s a relatively remote airport. At the other end a rotten railway service. We finally got our world heritage tag. But in terms of transport, we need systems that go at least some way to back it up, systems that we can mention without embarrassment.

MIND THAT SPEEDING OAP

WATCH out, there could be pensioners about. New statistics show that older people can halve the risk of a premature death simply by upping their walking pace. A combined Australian and British research team found that over-60s who managed to reach 3mph were 53 per cent less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke.

Walking faster does help people live longer, say the boffins who processed the results of a study of more than 50,000 Britons aged 30 and upwards. They found that a brisk or average speed reduced overall risk of death by 24 per cent over the course of 15 years with the protective effects of exercise more pronounced in older age groups.

The walking study, published in a special issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, has prompted calls by researchers for walking pace to be emphasised in public health messages.

Crossing busy roads, avoiding cyclists on the pavements. And now there’s a new hazard to look out for — speeding OAPs. I’m waiting for the first report of an unsuspecting pedestrian being mown down by an octogenarian speed walker.

COMPUTER-LESS AND SCARED

THE leader of a group which won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize has warned that a nuclear war is more likely to be sparked by panic than any other circumstance.

I can’t understand any country needing nuclear weapons these days. Not now you could bring a whole nation to its knees within a week just by cutting off its use of modern technology.

The truth is that, as individuals and as nations, we are totally, depressingly dependent on our little boxes of tricks — our laptops and computers.

Don’t I know it after my laptop gave up the ghost this week. After 48 hours without emails, unable to check bank accounts, contact friends, order books and clothing online, and a host of other facilities I take for granted until they aren’t here, write this column even, I began tearing out what’s left of my hair.

We’ve sold our souls to that nice Mr Zuckerberg and his pals. Handed them all our data. Our likes and dislikes. Our shopping preferences. Our tastes and habits. Everything about us is stored somewhere. Crazy, yes, but we’ve surrendered ourselves, body and soul, to the internet.

I’m aware there will be some readers who still survive very well thank you without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al. But this week it came to me that, if I can be switched off from life as I know it for a couple of days, what could hackers with mischief at heart do to our electricity, water, food, fuel and other services?

Who needs the bomb when you’ve got access to our innermost needs? It’s too scary to contemplate.

GRAB A DICTATOR, BLUES

IT almost defies credibility. Rwanda, one of the countries to which we send overseas financial aid, is apparently helping to sponsor a Premier League football club.

Foreign aid can be a force for good, but not when it’s being spent profligately to buy posh new motors for already rich leaders and their cronies, or indeed to hire executive boxes at Arsenal games.

The Government sends 0.7 per cent of our gross domestic product overseas every year. We are one of only a handful of countries to base aid on a spending target rather than on what good it can do on the ground.

But hey, here’s an answer to Carlisle United’s financial problems. Hook up with a poor overseas country with a dodgy president that’s on the aid gravy train, and persuade him to spend big on season tickets, replica strips, Brunton pasties and new players.

Just so long as there’s no revolution in the wind the Blues could be in the Premier League in no time at all.