This is a passenger announcement: Avert your eyes and hold your nose, the train arriving at platform 1 is stinking
It’s been happening since the days of steam trains.
When a person, a politician, a company or a council refuses to comment on something, it usually means they have something to hide.
There is a great deal of truth in the old saying that news is something someone somewhere does not wish to see printed. And that all the rest is merely advertising.
That is why the waffle we hear from politicians and spin doctors nowadays about openness and transparency is precisely that – waffle.
Or, in this case, excrement.
Put even more simply, it is a lie. They have no more intention than fly in the air of responding frankly to inquiries in relation to matters of public concern.
It is also why journalists have been made redundant in their hundreds and so many of them have gone over to what has become known as “the dark side” – public relations.
Or, to be more precise, media relations and communications, two of the fastest growing – and most expensive – “services” in industry, retail and public services which have grown exponentially over the past 25 years.
Take just one story in the news this week, a story that quite literally stinks.
The RMT has said it is appalled that high-speed trains being brought into service on to our local railways will continue to dump human waste onto train tracks.
The rail union said the practice, which had ceased after a deal with ScotRail in 2017, would result in its members being “sprayed with human waste”.
ScotRail described the situation as “far from ideal” and the trains continue to be used as an interim measure pending the arrival of a new fleet of refurbished trains.
The rail operator said that of 10 newly-refurbished trains due to come into service in December, only one had arrived from contractor Wabtec.
It said the delay in the order meant “classic” high-speed trains that did not have sewage tanks would operate on timetabled routes linking Scotland’s seven cities instead.
I take it – although we should presume nothing – that these trains will be used on the Helensburgh-Edinburgh services, which runs through most of our local stations, Cardross, Dalreoch, Dumbarton Central, Dumbarton East, Old Kilpatrick.
ScotRail are taking us back to the days of steam trains when few of them had toilets and the ones that had displayed a notice in every cramped little loo requesting passengers not to use the facility while the train was standing in the station.
One angry passenger said: “Passengers would be as well peeing out the window as going to the toilet on trains at the moment. It used to be in the days of steam that you were warned not to stick your head out the window in case you got soot in your eye. What you might get now begins with an S – but it’s not soot.””
Remarkably, a deal between the RMT, Transport Scotland and ScotRail had ended the dumping of human waste onto rail tracks only in December last year.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Our members are rightly appalled that ScotRail have sought to rip-up a clear agreement to end the filthy and disgusting practice of dumping human excrement on Scotland’s railways.
“This disgraceful and retrograde step must be halted now and the union will take whatever action is required to hold ScotRail to their agreement with the union.
“One minute ScotRail are bragging about their aim to operate the most modern railway in the world and the next they are back to spraying track workers with human waste.”
A ScotRail spokesman acknowledged when asked about this that it was likely to be some time before newly refurbished trains with human waste tanks would be ready.
In a statement, the company said: “We are working flat out to get more upgraded trains into service as quickly as possible, but our supplier, Wabtec, is behind schedule and has let us down.
“To ensure we can deliver services for our customers we will introduce classic high-speed trains until enough upgraded Inter7City trains are available.
“These classic trains will not have retention tanks, which is far from ideal. We are doing everything we can to mitigate this as soon as possible.”
What that means, put simply, is this: “We hear your concerns but it’s not our fault. Wabtec are to blame.”
The equivalent in the vernacular is the usual one from any company that finds itself in trouble: “It wisnae us. It’s no’ oor fault.”
Transport Scotland were at it too when they said they “completely sympathised” with unions over the issue.
Their spokesperson added: “The Scottish government has directly funded previous installation programmes to eradicate this practice across ScotRail fleets.
“We understand this interim measure is regrettable, but necessary to support more services and jobs across the country while retaining passenger services between our key seven cities. Wabtec must deliver their work as soon as possible, so passengers and staff can benefit from these improvements.”
Now, that is just waffle. What she really should have said is this: “This disgusting practice has been going on forever. The workers doing repairs on the tracks have had to put up with filth flying in their direction for years. We apologise for this but admit that previous managements did absolutely nothing about it. It was only when we found our backs to the wall, and the unions put pressure on us, that we awarded a contract for the sewage tanks to a supplier who has let us down.
“Meanwhile, we would ask our passengers to avert their eyes and hold their noses when there is evidence of this excrement when trains draw in and pull into our stations.
“We will also be consulting urgently with the Public Health authorities to establish whether it is safe to continue running trains over this filth, and what possibility there is of our passengers and our own people coming into contact with the e-coli virus relating to excrement.”
As for the contractors Wabtec, who employ a spokesperson to communicate for them, grudgingly revealed they had nothing to say so whether Scotrail’s excuse that they are to blame stands up or not we really cannot say.
It would appear that the bosses of Scotland’s private businesses and public services is this: “Whatever you say, say nothing.”