Railwatch

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Railwatch 079 - April 1999

Railwatch - PLATFORM - Your letters

Look East

I have just returned from Hong Kong using the Hong Kong Airport Express and the Heathrow to Paddington express. Both were new tracks and trains introduced during 1998, but Heathrow Express is significantly inferior to the Hong Kong equivalent.

The HK journey is 28 miles, the London one about 16 and both take 20 minutes. The HK fare is £5 single, the London one £10.

The HK trains are cleaner, smarter and better designed with on-board touch sensitive screens in the seat backs, an illuminated map showing your journey progress and a smartly dressed on-board tri-lingual conductor. The London trains are already tatty because of lack of cleaning, use of inferior materials that do not resist wear and tear, and have a poor quality on- board TV that tells you virtually nothing about London or onward travel connections. It persistently repeats the same advertisement for Heathrow Express — the service you are already on! It is sad we are not building and maintaining new public transport infrastructure to a world class quality.

N Leake, 34 Muschamp Road London SElS 4EF

Heathrow Express

I was disappointed in several aspects of Heathrow Express. BAA seems to have a cost-cutting mentality. It saw fit to run only one 4-car unit at a busy time of day.

It also seems much keener to obtain the patronage of foreign visitors rather than UK residents. Judging by the heavy advertising and presence of their ticket machines in the baggage reclaim area. I suspect it is trying to "con" overseas visitors into thinking its £10 fare is the only way of reaching central London by public transport. Why does BAA not promote cheap day returns for those seeing off or meeting people at Heathrow?

l was also amazed that there seem to be virtually no signs in any foreign language, nor were the video recordings in any other language than English. Surely the owner of a busy international airport can do better than this?

Nigel Perkins, 25-27 Cumberland Park, London W3 6SY

Reliability first

I have read that Scandinavian engines are deliberately over-engineered to ensure high standards of performance and reliability.

Most of us want trains which arrive and depart on time with clean and comfortable carriages and stations. This should not be too much to ask from a rail industry which has more than 160 years experience.

Some countries achieve reliability by building dedicated lines, others by over-engineering, tight scheduling and a culture focused on punctuality.

We should ease back on the speed and other "sexy" features to concentrate on reliability and punctuality. Why should it be so difficult? The Belgian internal services manage it.

Glamour and eye-catching technical innovation seem to count for too much.

Stuart Wilkinson, 14 Church Close, Stoke St Gregory, Taunton TA3 6HA

Northern spirit

I agree with Bradford Councillor Rowland Dale that there is too much emphasis on schemes affecting London.

Those of us in the north would be glad to have train services a fraction as good and frequent as those around the capital. Grimsby for instance is worse off than Bradford with no through trains to London at all. Passengers are put off making journeys if they have to change, especially if they have luggage.

Tim Mickleburgh, 33 Littlefield Lane, Grimsby, Lincolnshire DN31 2AZ

Plea for regions

Bradford Councillor Rowland Dale may be right that the regions tend to lose out to London in rail development, but Thameslink 2000 and other London area schemes should be seen as models for the regions to follow (Railwatch 78). Trans-Pennine services serve the North well, but could be extended to Chester/North Wales and to Bolton-Wigan-Southport. The core routes should be electrified, benefiting Trans-Pennine and many local services.

Electrification in central Scotland, and a new Glasgow Crossrail could link Ayrshire with the east coast, connecting most of Scotland's population centres and its three main airports. Besides Bradford, Leicester and Nottingham are large cities with poor northbound rail connections. All three could be served by a resurrected East Midlands-Scotland service via the Settle-Carlisle line. It is to be hoped that the Strategic Rail Authority, and the devolved political bodies will secure a fair share of rail investment for the regions, and make the most of the available European Union funding.

Chris Packham, 22 Hillbrow, Reading RG2 8JD

Think big

Hampshire is planning a metro tunnel under Portsmouth Harbour between Portsmouth and Gosport but the tunnels will be too small for trains and hardly big enough for trams.

With full-size tunnels, trains could operate a loop between Portsmouth, Gosport, Eastleigh and Romsey. With an enlarged tunnel, freight traffic could also be carried, in line with the Government's thinking on integrated transport.

RDS members who would like to get the planning application varied to allow for passenger and freight trains, please contact me. Don't leave this to others.

Lyndon Elias, 10 Sandringham Road, Didcot OX11 8TP

Half a link

Railtrack has not agreed to build the £5.6billion 68 mile long Channel Tunnel fast link, as reported in Railwatch 78.

It has only agreed to build phase one from the tunnel to Fawkham Junction, near Ebbsfleet, at a cost of about £2billion. It has an option on phase two, the expensive section from Ebbsfleet to St Pancras, but no decision will be taken until 2000-2001.

It is using this uncertainty to put pressure on the Government and the Regulator to relax the controls on the main Railtrack network in the review that will take place over the next couple of years.

Alan Francis, Green Party Transport Speaker, 6 Spencer Street, New Bradwell, Milton Keynes MK13 0DW

Reopening a priority

Many correspondents in Railwatch have called for electrification of particular lines, and indeed it is a good ideal to work towards. However, it presents a conflict with another RDS aim, reopening closed lines. I would suggest the urgency of reopening routes and stations should usually take priority over improving existing services.

Of course we should push for excellence, but a poor services still better than no service at all.

Julian Hayward, 7 Heathmoors, Bracknell, RG12 7NR

Tricky timings

There has been further media speculation about train operators perpetuating British Rail's practice of massaging timetables by inserting extra recovery time.

I raised this question at the rail users conference but Major- General James Gordon of the Association of Train Operating Companies refused to answer my question. I felt insulted.

Alan Cooke, 3 Bere Close, Winchester, Hants SO22 5HY

North of Clitheroe

I sympathise with Peter Jelley (Railwatch 78) who is unable to travel northwards from Clitheroe on his journey from North Wales to the Settle-Carlisle line. There are many more would-be passengers who live much closer who would also enjoy the opportunity of making the journey on days other than summer Sundays.

The restoration of the service north of Blackburn to Clitheroe (which celebrates its fifth anniversary in May) has been a success.

The section of line between Clitheroe and Hellifield presents a different challenge. The route is sparsely populated, with no significant potential commuter flow.

However, the campaign to see a restored northbound service has not been abandoned, it is merely on hold. In the fullness of time we may witness the provision of a through service by another operator or even the restoration of a limited steam service linking the soon to be rebuilt Blackburn station with Hellifield and Carlisle. Be patient, Mr Jelley. There is still hope.

David J Butterworth, Secretary, Ribble Valley Rail, High Close, 72 Fairfield Drive, Clitheroe BB7 2PS

Policy plea

I have just read the minutes of the national executive meeting in November. In 12 pages of minutes it is not until the eighth page that I can see any allusion to anything that could be construed as "policy" and even then it is dealt with in the most dismissive of fashions. The rest seems mostly to be taken up with discussing financial matters that should surely be dealt with by the Finance and General Purposes Committee.

This is not the sort of thing that should be going on in any organisation that wishes to be taken seriously in the world at large as one that is "going places".

Christopher Bentley, Frith Knoll, Chevin Road, Belper, Derbyshire DE56 2UW

Motoring subsidy

RDS could do more with its report about the motoring subsidy.

The myth of the overtaxed motorist needs to be replaced in the public perception by the fact of subsidised motoring.

It is because motorised road transport has been largely exempt from the laws of economics and not properly priced that Britain's transport system is in its present mess — with all the resulting distortions and inefficiencies in the economy, employment, land-use patterns and social life of this country. On a small heavily populated island this cannot be emphasised enough.

K Richmond,1 Alder Close, Eastbourne BN23 6QF

Trams

Is it not daft that the first new tram route in Nottingham is to be mostly along an existing rail passenger route, which itself has only recently reopened and is having to be supported? Furthermore, due to space restrictions, both will have to be singled at one point, with all the inherent operating difficulties that entails.

The result will clearly be two lines that fail to take off and one or other (or both) will end up being closed again. Either way, the reputation for trams in Nottingham will be damaged, and the likelihood of there being any extensions will be nil. Only in the past few weeks, the viaduct (ex-GN, I believe) to the east side of the city has been demolished, thus precluding its use as an off-road tram route. What is going on?

David Burbridge, 80 Grange Road, Alvaston, Derby DE24 0JY

Positive

l was delighted to read your positive coverage of the Central Trains and Midland Main Line franchises in Railwatch 78, as we have a positive experience of Central Trains over the last four years. Several key trains have been added to our local timetable, the company has expanded hourly into Stansted Airport and recently been prepared to add stops to inter-urban trains when we have been able to make a serious case. The 1999 timetable features improvements for business travellers from Cambridge to Amsterdam and Norwich to Birmingham.

Realtime information will reach all stations by February, 2000, marketing is dynamic and fares for many day trips on this straightforward, walk-on railway have been reduced to levels under a fiver or under a tenner, with further refinements planned for the eastern counties in 1999, on which our views have been not just tolerated but positively sought.

We need a regime which encourages the laggards, while leaving Central Trains free to develop the railway.

Railtrack is already pricing some aspirations off the rails. If it wins its campaign for higher marginal track access costs, it will prevent further development of regional rail services, which cannot bear the charges paid by HSTs or 1,000-tonne freights. We also need a regime which encourages Railtrack and SRA to provide sufficient affordable capacity for expansion.

We need extra cost-effective revenue funding if rail is to realise its full potential to bust congestion.

John Saunders, Peterborough-Norwich Rail Users, Sawyers Lane, Suton, Wymondham NR18 9JH

Grass roots

RDS is an increasingly respected organisation delivered by numerous members who have achieved this over many years of hard work at "grass root" level. Reputations are hard won but easily destroyed. Our national executive (NE) has spent much of the last year contemplating its own navel. Some members of the NE have accused the committee structure of being inappropriate and inefficient. To the best of my knowledge, these members have not attended committee meetings.

All members will have a chance to elect the NE as part of the AGM process. I am not canvassing for any particular candidate, but I would counsel that all RDS members read any manifestos carefully as they become available.

Paul Clark, 21 Sandfield Road, Arnold, Nottingham, NG5 6QA

Hidden agenda?

I read that Wales & West (Prism Rail) plan to cut back on branch line trains like Exeter-Barnstaple and cannot provide a train on weekdays for Exeter-Okehampton yet proposes to introduce a Penzance-Portsmouth service.

It appears to be prepared to re-organise train diagrams to sacrifice some local services in order to introduce more speculative longer distance services.

Perhaps if we could have got the missing link restored berween Plymouth and Exeter via Tavistock and Okehampton one of the train operating companies would have considered it worthwhile operating a through service via Okehampton to Exeter and beyond whereas a branch service might not be profitable. There would also be additional paths for freight.

D E Sparshatt, 30 Ham Lane, Gosport, Hants PO12 4AN

Bristol shops

A new out-of-town shopping centre in Bristol, the Mall at Cribbs Causeway, has attracted millions of visitors since it opened in March 1998. Eighty per cent arrived by car and since the opening the sliproad from the nearby M5 motorway has seen a 21 per cent increase in weekend traffic.

The new mall has an excellent bus station served by city and country services from every direction. Yet I know of no plans to provide a rail link. Rail travellers are directed to Bristol Parkway, three miles from the mall. They are then faced with a 20 minute bus journey, plus about 10 minute delay in changing from train to bus, hardly the best way to attract motorists from their cars. A major freight railway, recently restored to double track, passes within a mile of the mall. Next to it the former Henbury station's one remaining platform lies abandoned, gathering the moss.

The infrastructure exists to provide direct trains to Cribbs Causeway from such places as Bath, Cardiff, Gloucester and Taunton. And the Severn Beach branch could be given a new lease of life if some trains on that line too, were diverted to Cribbs Causeway. A direct rail link with the Mall would obviously be desirable, but at the very least a new Cribbs Causeway station on the main goods line, or a re-opened Henbury station, could be provided, with a Parry People Mover into the mall.

If only 10 per cent of visitors to the mall used a rail link this would represent close on a million passengers per year at current rates. How many more millions of car journeys will contribute to congestion and global warming before effective action is taken?

C A Ralls, 8 Priory House, Wellington, Somerset TA21 9EH (via email)

Seniors

Isn't it time someone — perhaps RDS — began to make a fuss about the growing cost of a Senior Citizen's Railcard? All very well to advertise one third off fares — it used to be a half on some tickets — but when one has to do at least £54-worth of travelling before breaking even on the cost of an £18 card, this rather takes the gilt off the gingerbread. It also means that one never actually achieves the advertised one third reduction on the full fare.

Really, the system of uniform reductions for all pensioners is manifestly unrealistic. Some of us, like myself, have an income which seldom even reaches the tax threshold while others have money to burn, and could well afford to pay full fare — ven first class — without noticing it. So I ask, could not entitlement to a card — free, of course — be subject to production of an annual certificate from the Inland Revenue which, without being specific about a person's income, could say to which of two or three levels of reduction on rail fares — say, 50, 25 or 10 per cent — they were entitled.

Alan Dodson, 6 Newtown Road, Malvern, Worcs WR14 1NZ

Bustitution

I was horrified to read the report, Buses oust trains, which disclosed that local authorities are being told by "consultants" that because private finance can only be found to support a £30million bus lane scheme, the £15million rail scheme has to be sacrificed, when tracks are already in place.

It seems ludicrous that the capital available for development is tied to one particular mode of transport, which thereby determines the form of the development. Local authorities are not being offered a choice at all as to how the link between Luton and Dunstable can be improved.

The implication seems to be that there are still people in positions of power who are anti-rail. But the report says "enlightened City institutions are now looking much more favourably on rail....."

Could it not be our job in RDS to find such enlightened financiers as mentioned, if no one else is doing so? In such circumstances the construction of this totally irrational busway must be opposed. Even worse, when I rang the telephone number given at the end of the report I learned that every local authority involved in the discussions has at some stage, agreed to some form of rail project. I am offering to travel, to write, to lobby and do most anything to rectify and reverse this disgusting decision. Just show me what I have to do, please.

David Ross Scully, 8 Broadview Avenue, Grays, Essex RM16 2NJ

Birthday blues

I was surprised to learn of RDS's birthday bash in Railwatch. I only got to hear of it after the event. Am I the only one to feel this is an indication of what is wrong with the society? Despite having about 3,500 members, affairs are arranged among a tightly knit group of officers with only lip service paid to the rank and file.

Surely here was an opportunity to involve members by perhaps having a ballot to choose the honoured few to attend such a function. Perhaps it was felt the infantry should not be let loose among the bigwigs in case we went "off message"!

Michael Weinberg, 12 Runnyede, Giffard Park, Milton Keynes MK14 5QL

Women's fears

We all want more people to use trains, yet there is a significant sector of the population who never do so because of a perceived lack of personal safety.

I refer to women, professional women in particular, especially those whose jobs require travel outside busy times. Such people — including former colleagues of mine at the BBC, would rather endure delay and frustration of traffic jams than risk travelling alone on a late-evening train, or a possible wait on a bleak (unstaffed) station.

They feel safer in their metal boxes.

The remedy is fairly obvious: more visible staff presence on trains and stations. This does not always mean more staff than at present. On lines such as Silverlink where guards are still on board, they should not skulk in their cabs but patrol the trains constantly, operating the doors by remote control if necessary.

On lines where the majority of stations are unstaffed, all trains should carry a conductor, with two on long trains. Where a station cannot be staffed throughout travelling hours, CCTV cameras should be seen to move occasionally — perhaps with a comforting mechanical whirr! — and should be backed up by regular and reassuring announcements, if only to confirm that the next service is on schedule, so the lonely passenger feels someone is watching out for him — or her.

The trouble, as we all know, is that most of the decision-makers seldom travel by train and would probably not dream of travelling late at night! Among the many issues for which RDS must campaign, I feel this is a significant one in that it is preventing this important sector of the public from becoming habitual rail-users.

Robin White, Southern Festival Orchestra, 11 Juniper Avenue, Bricket Wood, St Albans AL2 3LR

Equality for all

L I Elias (Railwatch 78) expresses the most offensive brand of ‘political correctness' when he/she suggests specific targetting of women and under 30s. All members should be valued equally, regardless of age and hormones.

Aidan Rankin, Crown Cottage Bishopdale Court, Settle, North Yorkshire BD24 9EB

Regional Eurostars

There seems little prospect of north of London Eurostar services which should be providing an important means of European travel for the people travelling to Europe from the north and west of London.

There is, however, a way to improve access to the Eurostar services for passengers from the Midlands, the North West and Scotland. It is possible to run services along the West Coast Main Line to Waterloo via Kensington Olympia. This would allow passengers to catch the current Eurostar services without using the London Underground, giving a quicker and convenient connection.

When Virgin Rail introduce their new rolling stock on to the CrossCountry services there will be some IC125 sets available. These could be used to operate from Scotland, from Blackpool via Tamworth and Lichfield and from Shrewsbury via Wolverhampton and Birmingham to Waterloo. These services will allow easier journeys for Eurostar passengers and provide extra direct services from Shrewsbury and Blackpool to London. The upgrading of the West Coast Main Line will allow full use to be made of the IC125 trains' 125mph (200kph) top speed.

I hope that the current franchising arrangements do not prohibit this improvement and that the train operators are prepared to introduce such new services.

Robin Fennell, 14a Homelands, Coven Heath, Wolverhampton

No place for Pacers

It is pleasing to see someone actually reads my ramblings in Railwatch.. However, I must disagree with Dr Dowding (Platform Railwatch 78) about where the blame for the dreaded Pacers should lie. The government of the day should not have allowed these mobile disaster areas into production. Dr Dowding attempts to differentiate between the various classes of nodding donkey, but to the majority of non-technically minded rail users a Pacer stands for non-reliability, roller-coaster ride quality and inadequate accomodation for luggage and cycles.

I agree with Dr Dowding that the present incumbent of No 10 and his cronies have been less than impressive on rail transport.

However, the last lot brought us Pacers and an ill-thought-out privatisation that was more about being irreversible than any consideration for rail users or value for money for the taxpayers. Long may they remain in opposition!

Robert Cummings, 37 Haughton Street, Hyde, Cheshire SK14 1QW

Smoky diesels

Rail is always thought to be an environmentally friendly form of travel, and statistically this may be so, when measuring road vehicle emissions against locomotive emissions. But anyone travelling on the Great Western will find these statistics meaningless, when they are standing on Didcot station, wreathed in black smoke.

I don't think any sort of urgency has been applied to this problem, partly because there has been so little public outcry over rail pollution.

I have been in touch with Great Western, who tell me that some effort is being made to clean up the exhaust emissions (new locomotives), but it is a slow process. The particulates in the black smoke are obviously a hazard. The highly dangerous chemicals, 3-nitrobenz-anthrone and 1,8- dinitropyrene, which I learned about from an article in The Guardian (10 September), it seems are not measured. The problem applies to all diesels, of course, including the increasing number of goods locomotives which shunt around the station.

I am an inveterate rail traveller, and before coming to Oxfordshire have lived only within electrified networks. All those who live in this area and use the diesel trains need to put pressure on the rail operating companies to make them clean up their exhaust, and our air.

J Gardiner, Willows, Stream Road, Upton, Didcot, Oxfordshire OX11 9JG

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