Jeremy Corbyn’s train-gate has overshadowed any real debate on transport

Jeremy Corbyn in footage released by Virgin Trains, apparently showing him walking past empty seats

Jeremy Corbyn in footage released by Virgin Trains, apparently showing him walking past empty seats on a train out of Kings Cross. Photo: Virgin Trains/PA Wire - Credit: PA

I now have first-hand experience of Jeremy Corbyn's 'Virgin train-gate' nightmare after making a bank holiday return trip from London to Newcastle.

In case you missed the story of the summer (and it would have been hard to), in essence the Labour leader was filmed sitting on the floor of what he claimed was a 'ram-packed' privately-run service on the line, claiming it was a 'good case for public ownership'.

Transport magnate Richard Branson, in his usual manner, was having none of it and released CCTV footage of the Labour leader walking through a carriage which some empty seats.

The film of him sitting on the floor was seen by many millions more than it might have been, and the airwaves have since been awash with questions about Jeremy Corbyn's character.

The left-wing veteran should take some heart that his message about the trains has also got people talking about the state of our transport.

'Train-gate' – as the summer soap opera has been dubbed – was certainly in our consciousness as seats filled up on the 10am to Aberdeen via Newcastle out of King's Cross.

On the return leg, a carriage of reservations was missing and an older couple found their much-needed seats booked months in advance had been double booked.

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Passengers around the country can relate as they fork out eye-watering sums for a service which very often doesn't get them to their destination at anywhere near the time they need to.

In (some) fairness to the privately-run companies, it is not always their fault when we are delayed. Network Rail, the separate infrastructure body, plays its part in delays, as can unforeseen circumstances, such as overhead cables breaking or bad weather.

But all agreed our rail links make them incandescent with rage and the huge sums many pay to sit by a loo makes their blood boil.

They don't believe the current system is working and something needs to change. How we make that happen is where the debate often ends. And train-gate failed to get people talking about the merits of nationalisation versus privatisation.

Jeremy Corbyn can blame the media all his likes, but the carelessness of his stunt and lack of attention to detail meant the serious debate, which we should be having, was overshadowed.

He may well have had reason to moan about a 'ram-packed' service.

No doubt many fellow travellers will have agreed.

I've shunned empty seats to avoid sitting next to someone eating a smelly burger.

Like him, I might stand at the end of a carriage with a friend if we can't get a seat together so we can chat, too British to politely suggest someone moves their suitcase.

I might even moan about how ram-packed the train was to whoever will listen when I arrive the other end.

But I'm not the leader of the opposition.

We know to our cost as journalists if you are making accusations which are going to a wide audience, you need to be precise and to be as sure as possible of your ground.

As the train rattled its way to the north, opinion was divided about Jeremy Corbyn. Many like his lack of polish and spin after 'smoothies' Tony Blair and David Cameron.

For others, there are concerns about his competence as he lurches from calamity to calamity, failing to cut through with a coherent message about what he will do, and why it really might make a difference.

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