Saturday, 22 May 2010

Hammond eggs on Platform 0 at King's Cross

My first personal brush with the 'new politics' of the 'Clameron' Conservative-Lib Dem coalition took place on Platform 0 at King's Cross station (Thursday, 20 May). 

Cameron's new Transport Secretary Philip Hammond strode through a booted and suited cluster of railway industry bods just as we'd started sipping juice and nibbling the canap├ęs. 

Hammond arrived in true Cabinet minister style to ceremonially open the new platform but the media scrum side-tracked him into fielding inconvenient questions about the new coalition government's commitment to high speed rail and to Crossrail. 

Hammond said meetings about meetings on both projects would be held with the key players, including with our beloved London mayor, 'Bozza' Johnson.

During this gentle jostling, Elaine Holt, chairman of East Coast, the government's only directly controlled rail operator, man-marked Hammond. Finally, a modicum of decorum fell on proceedings allowing the Transport Secretary to cut a ceremonial ribbon at the new Platform 0's country end. 

The platform, built on a former taxi rank, will allow Network Rail to refurbish King's Cross station's existing platforms on a rolling basis without interrupting train services run up and down the East Coast main line by East Coast, First Capital Connect, Hull Trains and Grand Central.

Hammond reckons King's Cross' refurbishment promises a passenger environment harking back to the station’s Victorian glory days. “King’s Cross is one of our key railway hubs and it’s vital it leaves a good impression on the people who pass through it – including those anticipated during the 2012 Olympics,” said Hammond.

After he scissored the blue ribbon (no Lib Dem yellow included), Hammond and Holt watched East Coast power car 91116 ceremonially haul a rake of coaches away from the new platform. 

First Capital Connect folk at the launch were apparently a tad miffed it wasn't one of their trains hauling that honour. FCC's only consolation was that one of its coaches - crudely crafted from icing sugar - had made the cut on a Network Rail fruit cake baked especially for the opening. 

Assorted rail journalists watched as Hammond took the knife to Network Rail's cake. Several believe Network Rail's dire debt interest predicament justifies the 'Clameron' regime taking an immediate reforming axe to the rail infrastructure owner. 

Some hope Hammond's cake slicing represents a symbolic portent of Network Rail's fate at the hands of Britain's 'new politics'.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2010

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