Alcohol has been banned on one of the East Coast train line’s busiest services to tackle what the operator calls “the behaviour of a small minority of passengers”.
The zero booze policy came into effect last month and follows a successful trial last year. It is not a blanket ban but applies to the train that leaves Aberdeen at 09.52 on a Friday and terminates, tired and emotional, some hours later in Kings Cross.
Those who frequent any part of this route will recognise immediately the target of East Coast’s restrictions: hen and stag parties. A further clue is in the plan to ban group bookings of more than 10, another good idea but one East Coast has decided to drop for now.
The traditional hen or stag “do” once involved female or male bonding in the local pub or club. In recent years, though, it has become a travelling circus, bound for a city near you and usually by rail.
The spectacle of already tipsy gaggles of fake-tanned girls or inebriated lads lurching down the aisle with bottles clinking in carrier bags has become the scourge of the weekend traveller.
Anyone who has ever had to share their journey south with such determined fun-lovers will welcome the advent of the dry train and pray that enforcement is successful.
The measure has been agreed by the rail operator and the British Transport Police after the pilot to stop people carrying or consuming alcohol led to fewer incidents of disorder and, according to East Coast, significantly fewer complaints from other passengers.
“Security personnel will be travelling on board this service to support our own staff and the transport police in ensuring that alcohol is not brought on board or consumed on the train,” said East Coast’s head of safety Lesley Heath.
The flaw in this otherwise sensible solution is that the ban will only be in place until the train reaches Newcastle. This suggests that rail bosses have never alighted, as I did recently, in York.
For not only do these drinking gangs disrupt the gentle rhythms of train travel, they ruin any city centre that will have them. And the more historic and charming the city, the more likely it is to fling open its wine bars to bingeing brides and grooms.
Edinburgh has long been on the hen and stag map as a destination for these visually disturbing (especially the women) revellers. One by one, the hostelries, many of them former banks, along elegant George Street have been rendered no-go areas by the invasion of raucous exhibitionists, drinking themselves into ditches before the sun goes down.
The presence of bouncers on the doors is a dead giveaway that the conduct inside is likely to be unbecoming enough to deter the normal drinker.
I don’t know when York succumbed to the same blight but perhaps, like Edinburgh, it thought it needed the money these thirsty parties bring in. But the sight of tottering heels and pink “I’m with the bride” sashes seem even more incongruous in the cobbled shadows of York Minster than in Scotland’s capital.
While few establishments would turn away business on aesthetic grounds, there must come a tipping point when the economic benefits of hens and stags are outweighed by the desertion of more modest pleasure seekers.
There is no sign of this, sadly, in York, or apparently in Prague or in many other beauty spots close to a mainline station or airport, and with liberal licensing laws and extremely happy hours.
The Foreign Office estimates that 70% of stag and hen parties go abroad these days, and one in four comes a cropper. As there is even less chance of bumping into someone you know in Riga or Krakow than in Edinburgh or York, all inhibitions are lost, often along with passports and pride.
Dublin, however, got fed up a decade or so ago and clamped down on serving limitless alcohol to large groups. And Barcelona, long overrun by rowdies, introduced on-the-spot fines and banned drinking in the street to protect its cultural tourism.
Both cities may have dropped in the rankings of websites such as lastnightoffreedom.com but their residents probably think that’s a price worth paying.