Railwatch

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Railwatch 068 - July 1996

Don't be shunted off track

We are convinced railways are a Good Thing but not everyone accepts our view. We have a range of opponents and we have to analyse their motives and reply to their arguments. Some have a vested interest, or think they have. A garage proprietor in my home town wrote to the press four years ago, advocating closure of one and a half miles of railway which included a level crossing over a busy road. Fortunately there was little support for this view.

In January I represented the society at the launch of the Ventnor Rail Association's report on reinstating the southern four miles of the Isle of Wight Railway. The only criticism voiced was by a councillor who claimed a small factory would have to be demolished and jobs would be lost. I pointed out that when new roads are constructed, especially in built-up areas, homes and businesses are relocated. This happened when the A12 was diverted in the 1970s to run 100 yards from where I live . The cost of rebuilding a railway must obviously allow for such works.

There have been cases where promising campaigns for reopened stations or new lines became bedevilled by local political rivalries, between or even within particular parties. I was once "piggy in the middle" between the local Labour party secretary who had invited me to address a meeting and a Conservative county councillor, who accused each other of making political capital. Both individuals subsequently moved out of the village, which is still waiting for its station.

Perhaps the lesson here is for RDS or the local rail users group to take the initiative but to welcome politicians of all parties. This happened very effectively in the Cambridge-St Ives campaign. That campaign has, however, encountered another opposition tactic, to suggest building a guided busway instead of reopening the railway. Cynics may see this as a delaying tactic; others may wonder if some firm with a vested interest has been lobbying in high places.

Is it more sensible to invest in largely untested technology or to back a tried and tested conventional rail system? Our East Anglian branch chairman wrote to the Health and Safety Executive on this issue, and it was evident from their reply that they had given precious little thought to the safety implications of a guided busway. Then we had the case of Cherry Hinton, where some people opposed building a rail halt, saying it would generate road traffic. In fact, would not any motorists attracted to use the new station for park-and-ride, or kiss-and-ride, be heavily outnumbered by those local people walking or cycling to it instead of motoring into Cambridge?

Finally, we had the case of Suffolk councillor condemning the plan to build a new rail link from the Felixstowe branch to the East Suffolk Line as part of the Trans European Rail Network. It would "devastate" local villages, she claimed. I wrote to the local press pointing out that a new railway would not attract superstores, garages, warehouses, Travelodges, fast-food outlets and other developments such as acumulate along new roads and could, indeed, be said to "devastate" some rural communities. A railway would give relief to residents along existing or proposed new roads. No reply to my letter was published, although the councillor concerned was in the papers again a few weeks later protesting about the cancellation of a local road scheme.

We have to point out loud and clear that the alternative to a railway could be more road traffic as local members in Chichester have done. Proposed gravel workings at nearby Lavant could be served by a rail link or by 60 lorries a day through the city's streets. A third suggestion has been an underground conveyor belt!

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