Earlier this year, train operating companies (TOCs) in the UK were asked by Network Rail, who own the track and signalling systems, to sign an undertaking that they will use “rail replacement services” only as a last resort. That’s because their research has shown that rail passengers (sorry, customers; we are all customers now), having paid for a rail ticket, prefer to travel on a train and not on a rail replacement service. Did they need to commission research to come to that conclusion?

For those of you who have never had the doubtful pleasure of using them, “rail replacement service” is another way of saying “bus”. This euphemism is widely used by train operating companies in the UK.

The issue is not new. A report said that Network Rail “recognises the need for a 7-day railway”. That was in August 2007. What progress have we made since then? See

My impression is that many other European rail systems handle this problem far better, by doing more of the necessary maintenance work overnight. That’s referred to in the link above.

Going back to the original report, a question that occurs to me is: how do you define “last resort”? If a TOC wants to use a bus – sorry, rail replacement service – they could, of course, find a reason, or excuse, and call it a “last resort.” The BBC report said that Virgin Trains, for example, can sometimes run replacement trains over the parallel Chiltern Railways track between London and Birmingham when their normal route is blocked by engineering work, but they don’t like to do it because (a) their drivers are not familiar with the route, and (b) the cost is higher than using buses. Would either of those reasons qualify as a “last resort”?

I avoid travelling by train on Sundays and will continue to do so until we really do have a “7-day railway”.