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Railwatch 072 - July 1997

A key year for rail

Reports from the AGM

This year will be a key one for rail, predicted Lord Berkeley, the former Labour transport spokesman in the House of Lords.

He told RDS members at the annual general meeting in Norwich that it would be a watershed year with the privatisation of the industry now virtually complete.

"We now have to live with the new set-up and make it work for us," said Lord Berkeley who is chairman of the Piggyback Consortium.

He congratulated RDS on its local and national work and said we had a vital role to play in briefing the large number of new MPs of all parties on railway matters.

Lord Berkeley referred to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the desirability of bringing Britain's low percentage of freight tonne mileage on rail up to French and German levels.

Progress was being made in discussions with Railtrack on the cost of freight terminals.

English Welsh & Scottish Railway reckons it can treble freight tonne mileage in 10 years.

He listed new flows such as timber, timber products and white goods on Scotland's Far North Line.

But high access charges through the Channel Tunnel meant that only a third of projected freight was going that way.

Lord Berkeley urged RDS to press for more competitive access charges and looked forward to a time, 10 years hence, when a freight train would be able to travel all the way from Manchester to Hungary without changing locomotives.

He also called for automatic marshalling, as practised on Wisconsin Central and now starting in Germany, and loading gauge enhancement to ports such as Southampton and Felixstowe.

He also called for a more enlightened attitude from Railtrack and the British Rail Property Board towards future freight developments.

Over 100 RDS members from all over Britain converged on Norwich for the annual meeting on 3 May.

We were welcomed to the city by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Rory Quinn, who drew attention to the 900th anniversary of the founding of its Norman cathedral in 1996 and the 150th anniversary of its rail link to Lowestoft that very day.

Referring to Norwich's twin cities of Rouen and Koblenz, and what could be learned from them in the transport field, he said: "We look Charlies" because of our lack of a high speed rail link to the Channel Tunnel.

At the business meeting, our president Dr Michael Caton reported on meetings with politicians and key figures in the railway industry.

He underlined the importance of the Road Traffic Reduction Bill which had cross-party support - "something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago."

In his chairman's report, Steve Wilkinson thanked members who had lobbied against the introduction on 44-tonne lorries and said that we would need to keep "more than just a watching brief" on passenger and freight matters over the next twelve months.

There was, however "an ideal opportunity to persuade the new Government to change the direction of transport policy."

Elections

The principal RDS officers were elected unopposed and the meeting welcomed two new ones: David Butterworth as Treasurer and Nat Taplin as Executive Officer.

Special tribute was paid to the outgoing Treasurer David Bigg for the challenges which he had tackled during his seven years in office.

The new National Executive, elected at the meeting and by postal votes is: Mike Crowhurst, Yorkshire; Steve Rackett , Wessex; Peter Lawrence, East Anglia; Donald MacPhee, Scotland; Andrew MacFarlane, North West; Charlie Niven, Lincolnshire; Peter Wakefield, East Anglia; Lee Davies, North East; David Redgewell, Severnside; Stuart Walker, South West. Richard MacQueen and Nick Lewis were unsuccessful.

Lord Berkeley was appointed a vice-president of the society, together with most of the existing vice-presidents. However, the meeting decided not to appoint any MPs or other Peers as vice-presidents, but to empower the new national executive to do so when the picture had become clearer.

Loading gauge enhancement

A motion was carried urging that generous allowances are made when civil engineering works are undertaken so that lorries can be carried piggyback on trains in future.

We have been worried that structures continue to be erected, even on principal freight routes, which are too low to permit the carriage of road trailers on trains.

RDS is calling on the Government and Railtrack to review existing dimensions required in civil engineering works, bearing in mind piggyback traffic and future electrification.

A second motion urged the Government to treat the rail network as a priority and to ensure that European grants are actively sought to upgrade it.

The motion also called for money to be diverted from road into rail schemes.

We want robust control of the rail industry on rail users' behalf and encouragement of integration between rail and other modes.

The best way to achieve that is with a national rail authority with clear policies and procedures for expanding and co- ordinating the network.

A third motion warned that any review of the core stations concept protected the current range and availability of tickets.

A fifth motion cleared the way for the national executive to consider changing the name of RDS as one way of improving the society's image.

Keep up the good work

RDS chairman Steve Wilkinson told the annual meeting he hoped that with a new government, a greater sense of urgency and realism would be directed at solving Britain's transport problems. After a year battling with ill health, he was proud to announce that he had become the longest-serving chairman of the society.

With privatisation almost complete, he joked that the only sure thing so far was that shares in paint manufacturers must have shot up as rail companies adopted a myriad of new liveries.

But meanwhile there is also a deteriorating air quality with the number of asthma cases, particularly amongst youngsters, rising dramatically - as road traffic increases.

In the past, he said, some of the choices of transport ministers had been like putting King Herod in charge of a maternity unit! But Steve said he was worried by some of Labour's tendencies. During the general election campaign, there was little or no mention of public transport or resistance to 44 tonne lorries.

In Cambridgeshire, Tories and Independents committed themselves to the reopening of the Cambridge-St Ives railway line but Labour and Liberal Democrats kept silent.

"The future of freight by rail, under the auspices of English, Welsh & Scottish Railway IS very positive - with new flows being announced on a regular basis," he said.

If 44-tonne lorries are allowed on British roads, it will have a disastrous effect on EWSR's plans to increase rail freight.

Positive action on transport is long overdue. RDS must play its part. He advised: "Remain vigilant colleagues - and keep up the good work."

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