Sunday, June 01, 2008

The "train of shame"

"After years of being accused of riding the Brussels gravy train, members of the EU parliament are about to step aboard a real one," writes Nicola Smith of The Sunday Times.

Long awaited, a new Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) service has been launched between Brussels and Strasbourg. But, in true style, when it comes to transferring MEPs (and their staff) between the two cities for the monthly meetings in Strasbourg, a special – i.e., exclusive train is being laid on.

The "Eurocrats-only" express service will be launched next month, enabling MEP to travel in luxury at 186mph between the two parliament buildings and, of course, the buffet car will be fully stocked. Staff, presumably, will travel in their own segregated facilities.

For this convenience, the long-suffering taxpayers will have to cough up about £158,000 for the return trip, by way of subsidy, but the fare-paying public will be banned from seeing how their money is spent. MEPs will pay £170 for a return ticket, but will then be reimbursed.

Ordinary passengers will have to make to with the rickety scheduled service which, from memory, takes about just over five hours – compared with the 3 hours 40 minutes for the TVG. The Times tells us this is known as "the cattle truck", and has no refreshments.

The new service replaces the two flights that are usually laid on for the same commute, at a slightly higher cost of £162,000 a month. This has the MEPs and officials bitching. Fast though it may be, the train cannot compete with the 90 minutes flying time and the time of arrival – 1.35pm – means the poor little darlings will be deprived "of their midday break and the possibility of a proper lunch".

Not only that, staff unions for the officials are complaining that the earlier start needed to compensate for the longer journey time means that some of them will have to come back from their weekend breaks on Sunday, rather than on the Monday morning, cutting into their leisure time.

Me, I used to go home for the weekend, and then drive down from Yorkshire on a Sunday, driving just over 500 miles (visiting one or other WWI battlefield on the way) before stopping in a fabulous hotel 40 miles outside Strasbourg - with a view you would kill for. After a leisurely breakfast, we (my passengers and I) would take the scenic route into Strasbourg, rolling in to the parliament at about 2-3 on Monday afternoon, after a relaxing lunch in some agreeable tourist spot.

It really is such a hard life being a Eurocrat – so you can keep your "train of shame".


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