Railwatch

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Railwatch 076 - July 1998

Rail is taking off

Everyone in Britain should realise by now that rail is at the centre of our public transport system.

And that from now on, the public interest - not private cars - should be at the centre of transport planning and investment.

The Government's White Paper on integrated transport will herald the new age of the train, Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins told the RDS rail reopenings conference in June.

We have twice delayed publication of this issue of Railwatch in the hope of giving full details.

But waiting for the White Paper was like waiting for a bus. You just could not tell when it was likely to turn up.

Transport Minister Glenda Jackson gave a clear indication of intent when she told a London conference on 12 June: "The Government aims to put the railway at the head of an integrated transport policy."

She promised the railways that "investment would come" but, as a consequence, the train operating companies have a duty to uprate the services which they offer to the public.

Even without the White Paper, things are beginning to look more promising for rail.

As part of the Channel Tunnel fast link financial package announced by Transport Secretary John Prescott, British Airways and National Express will join the French and Belgian state railways in a consortium to run Eurostar trains. The British Government's share is only 5%.

"It is hard to find anyone opposed to further development of rail," said BA chief executive Bob Ayling.

BA is hoping to get Eurostars running into Heathrow from Paris. And BAA is also hoping to run trains from Heathrow into St Pancras.

Both BA and BAA are involved in the £60 million Airtrack project to connect Heathrow to the Waterloo to Reading line.

Rail connections to other airports, such as Manchester and Stansted, have also been upgraded although there is still enormous potential for improvement.

All public transport users need a seamless journey, as Glenda Jackson has pointed out.

Through bus-rail ticketing is already appearing in some areas but it might be difficult to achieve given the fact that rival bus companies now control train operators.

In Bedford, for instance, there are no bus-rail tickets and very few buses actually serve the railway station. Why? Midland Main Line - a subsidiary of National Express  - runs trains into the town. So does Thameslink which is part owned by bus group Go Ahead.

So does Silverlink which is owned by National Express. But most of the local buses are run by Stagecoach, a rival on the roads to National Express and Go Ahead. The White Paper must provide effective answers. Unfortunately there have been reports that civil servants with entrenched attitudes and accountants with low horizons have been doing their best to prevent it tackling the real issues.

Young children suffering from asthma and old people terrorised by road traffic deserve better. We all do.

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Railfuture campaigns for cheap and convenient rail services for everyone; better links for buses, bikes and pedestrians; policies to get more heavy lorries on to rail; new lines, stations and freight terminals. In short, a better rail service and a bigger rail system for both passengers and freight.

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