Blaise Tapp writes: Not being an essential worker or anybody remotely important for that matter, I didn’t step foot onto a railway platform for the best part of 18 months, and during that time I missed the sensation of being packed into a tin can with complete strangers, most of whom will go to great lengths to avoid eye contact of any description.
While I don’t have the fascinating stories nor the pink jackets and green trousers of Messrs Palin or Portillo respectively, I’m an equally enthusiastic traveller - someone who is almost evangelical about their love for this mode of travel.
Apart from relatively brief journeys to and from school and colleges in my teens, my daily commutes have never involved negotiating rush hour on a foul smelling rattler, which means my experience of train travel has been largely a fun one.
Singing (badly) on the last train of the night or going to the match with mates have long been the key reasons for hopping onto the national rail network but my love of travelling on the tracks goes far deeper than downing Scandinavian lager and comparing boring football statistics and facts.
My first memory of a rail journey was crossing the Pennines into Yorkshire for a day out with an aunt as a schoolboy. It was the first time that I had clapped eyes on the majesty of the county’s stone wall lined valleys and it was so magical that they might as well have played the Last of the Summer Wine theme over the tannoy. That trip has only ever been matched by my first ever jaunt north of the border to Scotland more than 20 years ago, when we travelled through a host of towns and cities that were completely new to me.
Today, I get a genuine buzz from travelling on the train with my kids, with even the 12-year-old being impressed enough with the scenery outside of the carriage to put her phone down for a minute or two. Watching our youngest bounce up and down because he isn’t looking at the back of my fat head as I mutter insults about the nutter in the Audi who has just undertaken me at 90 brings me real joy.
Put simply, if everything is working properly and there aren’t too many leaves on the line, getting on a train is the best way to travel. It’s just a shame that not as many people are using the railways as they used to, largely due to the fact that millions of us have swapped suits for leisure pants and are not going into the office more than once a week.
There’s also the fact that travelling on a train in this country is neither cheap nor completely reliable.
It is this slump in passenger numbers that has prompted the Government to work with rail companies to introduce the first Great British Rail Sale, which last week saw one million cut price tickets go on sale.
As with most things involving this administration, there is a catch - the tickets are off-peak and are mostly for advance travel. You better be quick as you only have until the end of Monday, May 2 and you can only take advantage of discounts up to 50 per cent on journeys between now and May 27 - which is when the next school holidays start for most UK children.
There’s also the issue of some rail companies being more generous than others, with some hardly taking part. A million might seem like a lot but when you consider that 160 million tickets would be expected to be sold during the offer period, it could easily end up being dismissed as yet another Government gimmick.
This would be a shame because making travelling on a train more accessible to the masses is the only way that more people are going to get bitten by the railway bug.