Railwatch

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Railwatch 072 - July 1997

Stations must be at the heart of our towns

Where should stations be? The answer may seem obvious. They should be where they are likely to attract most business. That usually means in central locations where they can easily be seen and are easy to access, or are where people want to go.

I recently used Enfield Town station. This modern terminus seemed to me all that a good station should be.

It's on a main road, at the entrance of the bustling high street of a north London suburb. Outside are bus stops, a turning place for cars and taxis, telephone booths and a parade of shops.

A small travel centre faces the main road so the railway has a shop window on the outside world. Local information is displayed in a light and airy booking hall and there are spacious easy ramps to the platforms.

Yet I was told of plans to cut back the track and hide a new Enfield Town station behind a shopping development. That may bring short-term profits for Railtrack, but will it bring benefits for rail users?

A new report by RDS, Moving and Developing Stations surveys nearly 20 other cases where stations have been cut back or rebuilt. Sometimes the results are beneficial. Sometimes they are not. Nearly 40 RDS members around the country gave us their detailed reactions, as users, to stations such as Weymouth and Fort William, Aberystwyth and Felixstowe.

In some cases, the new station was an improvement, with a prominent user-friendly building. In others, rail travellers were marginalised to an inconvenient platform behind a supermarket or an office block. The report, available from our sales officer at £2, needs to be read by Railtrack and local authority officials contemplating such schemes.

It is also an important tool for local campaigners who can have an effect by stopping bad schemes or securing a sensible compromise.

Our North Wales branch and the Wrexham-Birkenhead Rail Users Association objected to proposals to relocate Wrexham Central station to a point which would be far less convenient for shoppers and commuters.

This campaign included seeking legal advice (funded by the RDS Rail Defence Fund), appearing at a public inquiry and producing their own plans for the station.

Sometimes it is argued that the future is in park-and-ride, with parkway stations next to motorways. This idea was raised by Great North Eastern Railway managing director Christopher Garnett in a recent meeting with RDS representatives. A parkway station south of Doncaster has been mooted, for example. On the high speed line from the Channel Tunnel to Paris, there is a new station which our French rail campaigning allies have nicknamed la gare des betteraves (Beetroot Station).

It is actually called Haute Picardie, and is out in the fields east of Amiens. The site was chosen purely because there is a main road and a motorway nearby. It is also convenient if you want to visit the beetroot fields - but probably not many people do.

That surely is the point. Parkway stations may improve access to the network but how many people want to travel from Bristol Parkway to Tiverton Parkway?

They are more likely to want to go from Bristol Parkway to the centre of Birmingham, Cardiff, Plymouth - or indeed Doncaster.

Attractive user-friendly stations in the centres of towns and cities therefore remain vital to the health of the network. These must not be downgraded in favour of greenfield parkway stations.

We shall be putting such points to Railtrack and the train operating companies in the coming months - not only as consumers but also, increasingly as their shareholders.

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