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Railwatch 077 - October 1998

PLATFORM - Your letters

USA allies

I'm very impressed with Railwatch and hope for the Railway Development Society's success.

Our magazine called Auto Free Times might evolve into something like Railwatch.

Our group is in reality a road-fighting organisation. So biking, walking, taking trains and being car-free are simply alternatives to more road building. We also discuss the big picture and the UK is mentioned in our latest issue.

Getting the support of the rail industry however has eluded us completely even though a halt to road building will obviously benefit rail. The concept of a US moratorium on road building came to me as a requisite to help our poor Amtrak system get a leg up.

Jan Lundberg, Editor, Auto-Free Times, Anti-Paving Alliance, PO Box 4347, Arcata, California 95518, USA

PS: We also have a web site at http://www.BikeRoute.com/AutoFree.

Bike squeeze

I would be the first to praise Anglia Railways' tentative steps towards cycle-friendliness if it wasn't for the surfeit of sycophancy already washing around - as illustrated by David Henshaw's article, Rail's virtuous cycle, in July's Railwatch.

"Convenience apart", writes Henshaw of the cramped vertical cycle racks on Anglia's Sprinters, "the system provides a neat and cost-effective means of accommodating cycles on conventional trains without seriously inconveniencing other passengers." Yes, it's neat, as far as space minimisation goes. Cost-effective it might be given the bums on seats mentality of commercial operators, but why then has West Anglia Great Northern gone for flexible space (i.e. horizontal storage) on its refurbished 317s? And how come convenience matters for other passengers, but not for those with bikes? Vertical racks are not convenient. Indeed they are impossible to use for some people, and they cannot accommodate anything other than standard two-wheel bikes, and then without bags and baskets.

In the same issue we read that RDS East Anglia welcomes Anglia's order for diesel trains to run under the wires to London. This move is promoted as allowing through services beyond Norwich, but in reality is a way of saving money, just like the hire of a preserved Hastings diesel unit, more than compensated for by hiring out a 153 to Great Eastern.

In this context, Anglia's installation of vertical racks is clearly determined predominantly by short-term cost-effectiveness -- the cheapest way of making the trains seem accessible to bikes.

Credit where credit is due, but let's recognise marketing ploys for what they are!

Chris Wood, Director, TransPlan, 45 Beatrice Road, Norwich NR1 4BB

Subsidy to roads

Neville Upton (Platform, Railwatch 76) mentions the hidden subsidy to road users. RDS made an attempt to quantify this with its publication The Great Transport Subsidy which, among other things, showed that motorists pay only £3 for every £16 of costs they impose on the rest of us for actually driving their cars. For parking their cars, they pay only £1 for every £7 paid by the rest of us to provide car parking.

RDS seems to have a blind spot in its reluctance to publicise its own research.

Giles Angell, 11 Franchise Street, Kidderminster DY11 6RA

Editor's note: The Great Transport Subsidy is available from RDS sales. See our Sales Stand

Thinking anew

I read with great interest your article on the proposed Braintree-Stansted Airport rail link. Sadly the suggestion that the old route between Braintree and Bishop's Stortford should be used is a complete non-starter. The old line has now become a country walk, a much valued local amenity. Its loss would be rightly opposed. In 1991, my association proposed a completely new route which would leave the existing Witham-Braintree line at Cressing.

The option remains to run trains from Braintree Town but only for a short distance, to join the new route which would then run parallel to the A120.

At the A120 road enquiry, the cost of the new rail route was given as £42 million, compared to the new road at £100 million. This view is supported by a 1994 report produced by Essex County Council.

In the short term, the need is to increase capacity on the existing Witham-Braintree branch line by building a passing loop at Cressing. There is also a need to establish a regular bus service between Witham and Stansted airport.

Our association's view is that the east-west rail link through Bedford should be built first with Cambridge-St Ives and Braintree-Stansted as the natural follow-ons.

But the rail lines need to be built before 2005 if the airport is to reach full capacity without severe staff shortages.

We are hoping to involve BAA in the project, given that Braintree District Council and Essex County Council support the road option.

David Bigg, Chairman, Witham and Braintree Rail Users Association, Eye Level, 76 Maldon Road, Witham, Essex CM8 1HP

Editor's note: Sadly the Government has recently given the go-ahead for expanding the road without any commitment to the cheaper option of rebuilding the railway. We still have a long way to go.


Reopening railways on old trackbeds is a relatively low-cost option. If the direct line from Cambridge to Sandy via Old North Road were reinstated as part of the east-west link, the cost of track and bridges would be compensated by avoiding the need for a spur north of Hitchin. It would also mean reduced operating costs for a shorter and less congested route.

Jonathan Dalton, 2 Regency Court, Enys Road, Eastbourne BN21 2DF

Editor's note: The line was blocked after closure by radio telescopes mounted on rails at Lord's Bridge. Perhaps the time has now come to re-evaluate the possibility of reinstating the old Sandy-Cambridge rail line so as not to interfere with the radio astronomy. It may be possible to divert the line around the observatory with a tunnel, if needed, to prevent electrical interference with the radio observations.

Ticket rip-off

I wonder if Pamela Christy (Railwatch 76) is aware that she could have booked her ticket in advance by telephoning the train operator for the InterCity part of her journey with details of the ticket she required and giving a credit card number.

Although it is requested to allow five days, the ticket, giving train times and automatically including reserved seats for the principal part of her journey, will normally arrive by post the following day. It does not matter if another train operator is involved for part of the journey.

A directory of train operators giving the number to telephone is given in the Great Britain Passenger Railway Timetable.

David Allard, 8 Chilcourt, Royston, Herts SG8 9DD

Beautiful rovers

I wholeheartedly endorse the point made in the last Railwatch about Rover tickets and holidays by rail. ScotRail's excellent Freedom of Scotland Travelpass gives unlimited travel by rail, long-distance coach services and all the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry services as well as quite a lot of local travel within Strathclyde.

A typical deal gives eight days unlimited travel out of 15. A friend and I used this ticket in June for a stunning trip in some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain. Yet apart from some discreetly displayed leaflets at some railway stations, it is not marketed, with the result that some of the services were sadly under-used. Surely ScotRail and Cal Mac could get together to publicise this excellent facility much more widely, perhaps even tying it in with an accommodation booking service. Promoting tourism in this way can only be good for public transport services as well as for the local economies.

Alas, almost everyone to whom I talked about this trip had never even heard of the Travelpass! An opportunity being missed I think.

Patrick Brooks, 11 Thirlestane Road, Edinburgh EH9 1AL

Editor's note: Internet users can find details of Rail Rover tickets at: http://www.mimir.com/railrovers/index.html.

Confused reaction

It is encouraging to hear a British Airways executive saying "It is hard to find anyone opposed to further development of rail". So our view is now politically correct, at least at Government and transport executive level.

But the grassroots view is still too often that railways either do not, or should not exist. Or why do so many tourist leaflets give road-only maps and instructions for reaching places of interest?

And is the mentality behind the following episode so unusual? A lady living alone had needed an emergency doctor's visit on a Sunday when the nearest duty chemist is in King's Lynn, 10 miles away.

A group outside church were arguing who was to drive in to collect the prescription he had left. A glance at my pocket time table showed I had just time to pick up the form and get the next train, which I did, rudely cutting short the discussion. I was later accosted by someone not present at the time: "When I heard you had gone by train for that prescription I wanted to wring your neck. Why did not someone phone me?" Taken aback, I could only produce the argument that every car journey increases someone's chance of an attack of asthma. "I bet that train causes more pollution than a dozen cars" was the retort.

I pointed out the line had been electrified in 1992 (with much local publicity). As I did not know the current price of petrol I could not argue the question of cost. I later worked out the round trip from his home would have cost the same as a standard day return and no doubt taken longer than mine which, with my rail card, was also cheaper.

Clara Zilahi, 31 Wimbotsham Road, Downham Market, Norfolk PE38 9PE

Wayfarer bargain

According to Railwatch 76, the National Trust provides public transport information. It may do so in its members' handbook but most visitors to its properties are not members and have to rely on regional leaflets. No public transport information is provided in the East Midlands leaflet and when I wrote to press for it, I received no reply.

National parks are also exhorted to learn from the Dartmoor rover ticket. The Derbyshire Wayfarer ticket (£7.25 for one adult and a child) has for many years allowed unlimited bus and train travel in the county, much of which is within the Peak District, and on specified services to points outside the county boundary. Unlike the Dartmoor ticket, the Derbyshire ticket is available every day of the week.

Bill Collins, 8a Moorland Road, Mickleover, Derby DE3 5FX

West Coast main line

I suspect I may be too late in drawing attention to a major, self-inflicted operating problem on the West Coast main line.

I refer to the long four-tracking, paired by speed rather than direction, from Primrose Hill to Roade; this also applies elsewhere between Kentish Town and Sharnbrook, and between Paddington and Didcot. There are other examples but the shorter they are the less of a problem they cause.

What with the welcome upsurge in rail freight, there are increasing problems of capacity (and resulting revenue limitations) from which the WCML is by no means immune. To run a two tracked railway at maximum capacity means that all trains must run with minimum headway at the same speed, and on a four-tracked section at one of two base speeds. If all is well it clearly doesn't matter how the roads are configured, but in the event of maintenance, failures, overhead problems, etc., trains must cross roads. For this to happen on the routes I describe half the total traffic in the opposite direction must be interrupted, losing perhaps three paths for every one crossing. The service falling to pieces from just one overhead problem was amply demonstrated on a recent journey, exacerbated by the tight turn-round times to which we have become accustomed. Compare the effect of a 20 mph slack for a down fast to slow crossing at Bletchley, with the up fast blocked by the process for several minutes, with one at Basingstoke. How can this be tolerated on the modern railway? How can splendid, new, tilting trains make any difference to the service in such circumstances? How can any degree of signalling sophistication make any improvement?

If major realignments of Robert Stephenson's sinuous, and in places eccentric railway, are out of court can we at least make it more reliable and easier to work. Clearly, flyovers at Wembley and Hanslope-Roade will be necessary.

A four-lane motorway with lanes paired by speed rather than direction scarcely bears contemplation.

Stephen Cooper, 32 Cardrew Avenue, London N12 9LD

The Connex way

While agreeing with Damian Bell in Railwatch 76 about the need to improve cross-London journeys for passengers from the regions, I would suggest the development of routes skirting Central London such as Connex's new Rugby-Gatwick service is a better solution to building CrossRail and expanding Thameslink.

CrossRail and Thameslink would be better as high-capacity urban and suburban services, as envisaged by the Central London Rail Study in 1988.

Ron Cust, 17 The Deerings, Harpenden, Herts AL5 2PF

European bookings

A friend of mine took her children to Germany last year, booking through a travel agent. She ended up extremely dissatisfied. I believe the problem was that she had been misled or given wrong information about the cost. Once having paid a sizeable amount of money, she was unable to obtain a refund when the cost escalated. She ended up paying far more than expected and would certainly not have continued with the booking had she not been tied into it. She would have flown.

It would seem that when dealing through an agent, refunds or changes can be extremely difficult, impossible or costly.

Agents do not seem to have the expertise at finding bargain fares that they have with air travel, and agents' fees may add to costs.

A written quote of the full price should be obtained before parting with any money if a deposit is being paid. Journey details should be carefully checked.

Matt Gordon, 10 Watton Street, Colne, Lancs BB8 0EN

Editor's note: RDS is compiling a list of travel agents recommended by members. See All I want is a rail ticket.

Taxi listings

A correspondent to Railwatch suggested there should be better information about which stations have taxi ranks. This information is extremely useful when planning a journey, for example, to a village that is roughly equidistant to two stations.

Help is at hand! I recommend that readers order South East England By Train by Paul Atterbury (published by the AA. ISBN 0749502428) from public libraries.

Its index to stations in the former Network SouthEast area says which ones have taxi ranks. For a long time, British Rail said it could not collate such information.

A nationwide index, with phone numbers of taxi firms, would be very handy. In the meantime, all one can do is ask the Hackney licensing departments of district councils.

E H Locke, 3 Langton Court, Langton Road, Worthing, West Sussex BN14 7BZ

Village links

I agree with Tim Mickleburgh (Railwatch 76) - taxis can make a vital contribution to rail travel, especially in country areas.

I live five miles from the town in a village with two buses a week to the town bus station (not to either of our edge-of-town stations).

I have an old car but use it only for shopping and other local trips.

For day trips by rail I can park the car for free at whichever station I use. But neither station car park is secure overnight so any longer absence means leaving the car at home and using taxis at substantial extra cost to and from the station.

Taxis really must play a more important and effective (and cheaper) part of seamless journeys including rail travel in and from rural areas.

This was indeed recognised by the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development in their superb sub-committee report entitled Making Connections.

Geoffrey Penn, Barnside, Bishops Lane, Hardington Mandeville, Yeovil, Somerset BA22 9PJ

Rejoice, rejoice

The recognition in Railwatch 76 that "things are beginning to look more promising for rail" is belated. By associating itself with a politically motivated group, the activities if not the remit of which appears to harm our railways, RDS is only gradually recognising that some of its objectives are being realised.

Open any railway magazine and glance at the headlines: new stock, new routes, new services, more freight, more passengers. Yet still we seem to be fighting the battle we lost before the general election.

The shortcomings of the privatisation process are evident. If they are still to be gloated over, let the criticism come from media knockers. The successes are numerous and of greater long-term significance.

RDS should part company with the agitators, applaud Railtrack's achievements to date, adopt a positive stance and rejoice at the new dawn.

John Lovell, 9 Keswick Heights, Keswick Road, London SW15 2JR

Car myths

One myth the rail lobby should try to put straight is that which tells us the car goes door to door. This is by no means always the case because of the problem of city centre parking, for example.

I remember a colleague walking 20-25 minutes to our office at Leeds after he had parked his vehicle and this is typical of many towns and cities. Not very convenient is it?

Tim Mickleburgh, 33 Littlefield Lane, Grimsby, Lincs DN31 2AZ

Cross-London link

A correspondent in Railwatch 76 asks for transport between rail termini for wheelchair users or for people with large quantities of luggage.

This has already existed for some years in London Transport's Stationlink low-floor bus which provides a circular hourly service from 08.15 to 19.15. For a free timetable you can telephone 0171 918 3312.

Drivers assist passengers as required into rail stations. A complete circle of the termini takes one hour. The single fare per person, for any distance, is £1.

Railtrack also has customer service at most London termini. Given notice, a buggy can be provided, for instance for the very long journey from the street or Underground at Victoria to the Sussex train departure platforms. Assistance can also be given for an entire journey involving several changes by ringing 0345 484950.

Brian Minchin, 52 St Lawrence Avenue, Worthing, West Sussex BN14 7JG

Heathrow connection

Stationlink buses connect the London termini and, at Victoria coach station, with the A1 and A2 airbuses to Heathrow airport.

I always advise passengers with luggage travelling between London termini to use the Stationlink buses as it saves negotiating stairs.

E M Peacock, 10 Orchard Court, Thornbury Avenue, Osterley, Isleworth, Middx TW7 4NG

A plea from the sticks

The city of Hereford may well be out in the sticks but it has a population of over 80,000. At one time it had west-to-east rail routes, from Gloucester via the busy market town of Ross, and on to the bookshop town of Hay, to Three Cocks Junction and onward to Swansea. These lines are now either grass and jungle, or a few kilometres of cycleway running east from the suburbs, or built over by isolated residences and the Sun Valley factory.

The traffic, fumes and noise are horrendous, worsened by timid parents driving leg-lazy children to and from schools in term time.

Plans for a new bypass which would solve nothing are on hold.

Our society - called Rail in Herefordshire - has eight locally based enthusiastic members. It seeks of course to reopen this corridor. There is just enough space to get round Sainsburys which has been built on the old tracks. Tesco's is nearby generating further traffic mayhem. Given the chance, children, shoppers and visitors would use rail.

I would plead with RDS and to Railwatch readers to back us. As well as being a cider town since the Middle Ages, we have been a railway town.

The present solitary station is diminutive but steps are being taken to "consider" reinstatement of the Ross line, if only to Rotherwas Industrial Estate, and, I pray, to Holme Lacy agricultural college. Please help us to make our few voices heard. Add to them!

The Reverend Stephen Sheppard, 45 Hewitt Avenue, Hereford HR4 0QR

Unrealistic aim

R G Silson's suggestion in Railwatch 76 that a restored Luton-Dunstable service should be extended to Aylesbury via Cheddington is rather unrealistic.

This would not simply be a reopening, but would involve constructing a new line between Dunstable and Cheddington, as well as restoring a line which carried so few passengers that it was closed long before Beeching. It would be more logical to extend the restored Luton-Dunstable service to Milton Keynes via Leighton Buzzard, serving a much larger population and providing connections with Virgin Trains. Aylesbury will also gain access to the north via the east-west rail route, with a service to Milton Keynes. For passengers from Tring or Leighton Buzzard to Aylesbury, a train journey with a change at Cheddington would be much less convenient than good direct bus services.

One of the big mistakes of British Railways after nationalisation was the failure to integrate services previously operated by the different railway companies.

With the setting up of the strategic rail authority, which I hope will not be long delayed, we must work for the reintegration of the rail system and the provision of more through services when more than one TOC is involved. If the Luton-Dunstable-Leighton Buzzard line is reopened and electrified, Thameslink trains could run through to Milton Keynes, opening up many new possibilities for seamless journeys.

Martin Smith, 57 Bath Street, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 1EA

Protect trackbeds

Because there is much more traffic and many more parked cars on the roads, many of the rail lines which have been closed could serve a useful public function now.

As an example, Brighton lost the Kemp Town branch several years ago and it is never likely to be restored. But the frequent short journey was an efficient way to get to the London Road and Lewes Road areas.

Admittedly one can now get by road from Hove to Kemp Town quickly but securing a parking space is a different matter.

Certainly disused trackbeds require increased protection.

John Snewin, 26 Marshal Avenue, Worthing BN14 0ES

Dumfries line

I share Michael Spencer's scepticism about difficulties of reopening the Stranraer to Dumfries line, although I don't think he appreciates what its true significance would be.

Much the biggest potential would be in diverting passengers and freight off the A75 as a link with Ireland. For this reason it really does merit serious consideration. The biggest problems that I see are not only in restoring viaducts, but in the fact that the track bed has been built on or used for roads. As for local convenience, it is extremely unlikely that the line could now go through Dalbeattie and Castle Douglas and Newton Stewart and the choice would have to be made as to whether to route it via Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse (as it should have been in the first place) or not.

Ironies arise! Some people might adopt a nimby attitude to re-routing. Environmental assessments would have to be undertaken taking the same factors into consideration as with road building proposals. There would be construction scars where there was re-routing, especially if the decision was taken to put it along the Cree coast. Where single buildings have been constructed on the bed, there might have to be more compulsory purchase of them than in the case of road building because there is not the same scope to choose the line.

A couple of points about viaducts and bridges. Sustrans has bought the Big Water of Fleet viaduct. In its negotiations for the National Cycle Network it may also acquire the Parton viaduct which is presently in private hands. Vehicles use it; it is only the decking that is dangerous for walkers. Hopefully, the trees growing on the Goldielea viaduct near Dumfries are only affecting the superstructure.

A bridge above Creetown bears Hitler's grave! This was carved on the parapet by a Polish stonemason during the war.

John Taylor, Monksmill, Castle Douglas DG7 2NY

Second thoughts

Your correspondent W J Marshall (Railwatch 76) seems unaware that Reading-Redhill trains no longer continue to Tonbridge. The service is split. Thames Trains runs Reading-Redhill-Gatwick while Connex South Eastern runs Gatwick-Redhill-Tonbridge-Maidstone-Strood.

While diverting services from Tonbridge to Ashford via Maidstone sounds ideal, in fact the Gatwick-Strood service logically combines two secondary routes and offers attractive new Sussex-Gravesend and Medway towns options.

Diverting yet more trains on to the busy Tonbridge-Ashford section may not be desirable.

Gordon Wiseman, 170 Gander Green Lane, Sutton SM1 2HG

Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.

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