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Railwatch 076 - July 1998

Shrewsbury AGM 98

Long-serving general secretary Trevor Garrod survived an electoral challenge at this year's annual general meeting from publicity officer Steve Rackett.

Trevor won the contest by 156 votes to 98 after Steve declared his intention to run for general secretary only a few weeks before the annual meeting  - too late to inform Railwatch readers.

A last-minute motion by Trevor Jones that the election should be postponed so that all members could be informed and each candidate be given a fair chance to put their arguments to the membership was defeated and the election went ahead.

Trevor warned members however: "This is my thirteenth year in the job." He said he would not "go on and on".

Steve told members at the AGM: "I want RDS to be a more positively campaigning organisation. And I want RDS to be the first-stop shop for the media."

The following were elected to the national executive: Stuart Walker (173 votes), Mike Crowhurst (158), David Henshaw (153), Don McPhee (153), John Stewart (139), Peter Lawrence (136), Peter Wakefield (133), Jonathan Bray (128), Simon Martin (128), David Redgewell (123).

Not elected were: Keith Pennyfather (110), Charlie Niven (102), Ian Christian (97), Bill Collins (93), Ivan Ivanovitch (91).

Former NE members Lee Davies and Andrew Macfarlane did not stand for re-election.

The mayor of Shrewsbury who welcomed RDS to the town for its annual meeting praised the society as a marvellous organisation.

"Everyone wants to see a lot more freight back on the railway," said Councillor Peter Dunham. But he added: "You have a difficult task."

For instance, he said the railway companies were still not being constructive enough about carrying cycles on trains. Things were changing, and he added: "We seem to be at the stage where the customer is nearly always right." He said Shrewsbury had a proud railway history. Between 1947 and 1971 six railwaymen had been mayors of the town.

When the railway first came it had also been an important centre for stage coaches.

"One of the town's prominent coachmen had said 'Death to the railways'."

Now we want the railway to be as user-friendly as possible.

"We can't make people travel by train. They will have to want to travel by train." He added: "People seem to accept jams on the motorways but are not so happy when they get stuck on a train."

The managing director of Wales and the West Railway was given a cheer when he said his company had decided not to re-paint the outside of its trains yet but to concentrate on improving things which affected the passenger. "We decided to spend more on seats, air conditioning and the interiors of the trains," said Mr David Weir.

The 60-40 preponderance of airline seating compared to table seating would be changed to 60-40 in favour of tables.

People preferred the tables - there was somewhere to put their papers - more back to back seating would provide extra space for luggage between the seats and research showed that people at tables bought more food and drink from the catering trollies.

Mr Weir said that 60% was a key figure in many ways. 60% of his passengers do not have access to a car on the day they travel by train and 60% of rail passengers travel alone. 60% of people travel for leisure. He said the number of passengers on Wales and the West had increased by 8% but its grant from the Franchise Director was being cut by 13%.

The company had no other choice but to expand the business.

Referring to the demand for opportunities for cyclists to take their cycles on trains, he said: "Bicycles and two-car diesel multiple units do not mix. "I have to take out seats to accommodate cycles. So instead we will provide better cycle parking at stations and cycle hire at destinations."

Mr Weir also said that his company planned to upgrade his class 153 units to equal the comfort of the 158s.

Because he operated trains from 200 unstaffed stations, each train carried lightweight ramps which could allow wheelchair users to board the train.

He also revealed that train to bus through ticketing was easy to organise but there were severe problems in trying to arrange bus to rail ticketing.

Happily, local authorities were providing grants to enable Sunday services to operate on the Heart of Wales line.

Shrewsbury town council was also providing cash to help publication of a book about 140 years of Crewe-Shrewsbury.

And Wales and the West was cooperating with Central Trains to provide a Cardiff-Nottingham service.

"Believe it or not, we do seek to integrate our timetables. We have to be seen to be operating as part of a cohesive industry. The passenger needs an integrated service."

He also promised that passengers at all 207 of his stations would get real-time information by the end of next year.

He said: "We are trying to turn our passengers into fans of our company. We know it takes a long time to earn a reputation and only a short time to lose it. Advertising is wasted if the product fails to satisfy."

To cope with overcrowding in the peak (only 3% of his trains are overcrowded) he would have to deploy expensive rolling stock. And on some of his services, the driver and the guard would "like some company". Sometimes they are the only people on board.

"I hope we will see new funding unlocked for Britain's railways by the White Paper."

Engineering works were also a big problem at the weekend when most of his passengers travel.

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