Bad news for Merseyrail: the House of Orange has fallen. On January 1st Maarten Spaargaren gave up his position as MD of the railway company, bringing an end to the Dutch rule over Liverpool's railways.
Before Maarten, there was of course Bart Schmeink, who I ACTUALLY MET at a Christmas party Merseyrail generously invited me to once. They didn't invite me again - hopefully nothing to do with all those JD and Cokes I knocked back, or me telling the man behind the Merseyrail map that the city centre square was "fucking shit" (I should say he agreed with me) - but I did attend Bart Schmeink's leaving do. I arrived too early, skulked around at the edges eating vol-au-vents because that was easier than talking to people, and left without managing to speak to the great man himself.
I was happy when Bart was replaced by Maarten, because having a Netherlander ruling over Merseyrail seemed to work. Customer satisfaction went up, punctuality went up, the trains and the stations all started looking a bit lovely. They imported the M to Go concept from the Low Country, which worked, and the Bike and Go concept as well, which didn't quite as much. Maarten has left Merseyrail for the sake of his children's education, which is appallingly selfish of him. What about ME?
Now there's a man called Alan Chaplin running the company. What sort of a name is that? There's the correct number of vowels in it. There's no satisfying "sch" sound. It's far too English. Alan is on a secondment from Northern, where he's more usually the Deputy MD, and I'm sure he's a lovely and very capable man. I'm sure Merseyrail won't plunge into an abyss of horror but, just to be safe, I think Alan should attend work in an Ajax shirt and waving some tulips about. While smoking a joint.
So instead I'm transferring my loyalties to Northern Rail in the "FavouriteManaging Director" category. They don't have a Dutchman in charge there, either, but I'm willing to overlook that because they have Alex Hynes instead. Alex is actually northern, which I like; admittedly, listening to him speak, he's not full on "ey up, down t'pit with me whippet" northern, but that's ok. I like the idea of the rail operating company being run by someone who's actually got experience using it. I bet some of the southern franchises are run by men who haven't left their air conditioned Jaguar since 1986.
Also, if I can be unashamedly shallow for a moment, Alex is a little bit sweet. I like his teeth, and his ears: my fondness for Russell Tovey must have given you a hint that I have an inclination that way. And now Tim seems to have left the Northern Twitter feed, Alex has moved to top spot in the Northern Rail Totty Stakes (apart from that guard on the Yorkshire Coast Line who was built like a small house and who caused me to have minor heart flutters).
I mean, GOOD LORD.
Another fact in Alex's favour: he is always travelling around the network. I don't think he even has an office. I think he just installs himself on the first train he sees and goes out and about. Northern is such a weird franchise, and I'd hate to think he was just commuting in and out of Leeds on the frequently served, well maintained lines and thinking that was all his franchise was about. I recently spent a couple of hours trying to work out how I was going to visit the stations between Pontefract and Goole, which get only three trains a day, one in the morning and two in the evening; a good MD knows about the backwaters and has seen them for himself.
But Alex's greatest asset? He's as nerdy about travelling over Northern Rail as me, as evidenced by this from his Twitter feed:
We're clearly kindred spirits, Alex. Give me a ring. I'll buy you a pint.