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Railwatch 078 - December 1998

Railwatch - PLATFORM - Your letters

Gap in network

I am a new member of RDS and would like to congratulate you on Railwatch which is very interesting and informative, and very readable from cover to cover. I look forward to receiving many more editions.

I would like to hear from other members about the failure of North West Trains to run a through service from Preston to Skipton or Settle or at least to Hellifield, calling at Blackburn, Whalley, Clitheroe, and perhaps Gisburn. There is no direct connection between the scenic Settle-Carlisle line and the West Coast main line. There is no doubt that, at least in the period from May to September, the service would be very well used.

I know that a weekend service runs from Blackpool on Saturdays and Sundays but it is poorly timed for travellers from further afield. I find it impossible to travel by rail from my home in North Wales over the Settle-Carlisle line in one day because of the gap between Clitheroe and Hellifield. The track is in place and is used for goods traffic and the weekend Blackpool service. Why cannot the Clitheroe service be extended to Hellifield?

Peter J Jelley, Fron, Rhuallt Road, Cwm, near Rhyl, Denbighshire LL18 5SN

What a contrast

My wife and I travelled to Germany and back by train and ferry via Hull, Manchester, and P&O ferry to Europort. Travelling Deutsche Bahn was a brilliant experience, with everything clean and efficiently run, trains to the minute, well-signed platforms, plenty of lifts for baggage, clean toilets . . . and everything working! A printed journey plan was provided for each passenger listing all stops, timings and distances between stations as well as services available at each station like availibity of car and bike hire. On the return journey, the train from Hull was 10 minutes late into Piccadilly, there were no trolleys available, the lifts were antiquated and there was an announcement that a connecting train to Manchester airport was cancelled.

From Manchester, which we left 40 minutes late, we had a poor ride home in a filthy Pacer with filthy toilets. It was not able to serve Salford and Bolton because of engineering works. We had time to wonder why the Government has sanctioned the building of an extra road from Hull docks to the city centre when the rail track is not being used.

Why has Merseyrail Electrics, which runs Southport station, closed its information office? All the German and Dutch stations have them.

Bill Joynson, 44 Primrose Close, Southport PR9 9FD

Educating the public

If only the many leaflets produced by RDS could be made compulsory reading for the general public. I have written a book which uses a fictional plot to show the link between transport and the destruction of people's homes. Of course bookshops can't be forced to stock my book but if it sells well, I hope to donate money to RDS. It is called Sold and published by Minerva of 195 Knightsbridge, London SW7 1RE. It is likely that some RDS members will not like parts of it. If so, I'm sorry, but sometimes to reach the intended destination, you have to take a rough route.

R Warbus, 11 Hillside Gardens, Bounds Green, London N11 2NH

Driving me mad

Anyone who watched the Driving School series on BBC TV must have wondered why people who have little aptitude for driving are allowed an unlimited number of driving test re-takes.

Josephine Martin, 6 Downs View, Camp Road, Freshwater, Isle of Wight PO40 9HR

Switch speed

The lack of infrastructure on the busiest of our railways was rightly highlighted by Stephen Cooper in Railwatch 77. More grade-separated junctions, be they burrowing or flyovers, are needed. But in the short term, significant improvements could be made by replacing 20mph crossovers with faster ones.

In response to Peter Rayner's comments on railway control, surely there is only one answer. Railtrack controls the signalling and should control the trains. Priorities might well have to be settled by recourse to the Rail Regulator so that there are strategies in place for emergencies.

At the moment, any abnormal occurrence produces chaos, like the 18.00 from Paddington to South Wales on 20 September which was halted in the Severn Tunnel, unable to restart. Passengers were finally decanted at Newport, 12 miles away, at 23.05. One resource that seems to be sadly lacking is experienced railway folk such as Mr Rayner, who know how to react rapidly and effectively in such situations.

Ray Caston, 22 Pentre Poeth Road, Bassaleg, Newport, Gwent NP1 9LL

Critical path

John Lovell's letter in Railwatch 77 is the latest in a long line of calls for RDS to adopt a "positive stance" and to applaud Railtrack's achievements. His strictures say nothing about what RDS should do when things go wrong on Britain's railways, perhaps implying that RDS should keep quiet.

A consumer-based development society should suggest ideas for development, not leave it to industry. Business permeates our lives more than ever and often insinuates that those who query its agenda are woefully misguided. Business is often wrong, however.

The more reasonable rail companies have implicitly recognised this by introducing improvements suggested by RDS. Witness the all-network railway map unveiled by the Association of Train Operating Companies at the 1998 Rail Users Conference. I say "well done" to the RDS's Paul Clarke who pressed for this. By all means congratulate ATOC too but we must take a balanced stance. That does not mean equal amounts of cheering and booing but a critical approach. Credibility and integrity demand nothing less. There have been improvements in some areas but unfortunately they are eclipsed by official statistics (not media knocking) showing that punctuality has worsened on more routes than on those showing an improvement and that complaints are at an all-time high, as well as by the stony silence with which the industry greets the word electrification. RDS has to address these issues.

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

Rail first

I was concerned at Mr David Bigg's statement that reopening the railway from Braintree to Stansted along the old trackbed is "a non-starter". If we have to build new routes when the old line is occupied by a cycle or footpath it is going to be very expensive as well as wasteful. The Flitch Way was engineered as a railway and the route is largely intact. It is much easier to provide a new cycle/ horse/footpath than a new railway. Sustrans are quite happy for their railway paths to return to use by trains if required.

When trackbeds are obstructed by property it is generally better to obtain sufficient space to enable the route to follow its original course even if stations and yards are relocated. If the line is diverted someone else's land will have to be acquired and the line will be made sinuous. Houses on railway land have of course not been there long and acquired much sentimental value. They probably change hands every few years anyway!

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

Ticket rip-off

A questionable practice that is followed by train operating companies in the former Network SouthEast area is to price cheap day singles at levels only 5-10 pence below that of cheap day returns. A study of these fares which are quoted in the very usefulABC Rail Guide, found in many public reference libraries, will reveal this. If the operators wish to encourage rail travel, and counteract the widely held view that rail travel is expensive, then cheap day singles should be reduced to around two thirds of the cheap day return fare. Perhaps the passenger committee, together with the Central Rail Users Consultative Council, could take this matter up with the Association of Train Operating Companies, and persuade them to adopt the fare levels suggested.

Alan Harwood, 139 Harrowdene Gardens, Teddington, Middx TW11 0DN

On the bike rack

Well, I must say I never expected to be described as a TOC-friendly sycophant! (Platform, Railwatch 77). But I think it's worth giving credit where credit is due, and the new bike racks fitted by Anglia Railways are a step in the right direction. Having said that, I wholeheartedly agree with Chris Wood that the real answer is "flexible space" that can be used for luggage, wheelchairs, prams or even standing passengers when bikes are not in residence. Bike racks are expensive, difficult to use for some (I mentioned this in my article) and very inflexible. In my dealings with TOCs, I always suggest flexible space allowing a minimum of two bikes per carriage on local trains. Chris also criticises the commercial rail operators' "bums on seats" mentality. Strange; I thought that was our long-term strategy too? More bums, more seats, more trains, fewer cars.

David Henshaw, 19 West Park, Castle Cary, Somerset BA7 7DB

Relaxed attitude

The notes in Westminster Watch on customs problems (October Railwatch), remind me of a journey made many years ago, long before "Schengen", on the evening service from Paris Nord to Amsterdam. This would have been "Etoile du Nord"?

Somewhere while moving at speed in the Picardy region two gentlemen came through the train, one French in smart casual dress with a tricolour arm band complete with bow(!) on his left arm, the other uniformed Belgian, who politely multilingually requested sight of identity document and "avez vous quelquechose pour declarer?". That was the extent of out and in frontier control 20 years ago.

Would that our authorities could be so relaxed!.

J H Lowe, 130 Perth Road, Blairgowrie PH1O 6EQ

Go for ELLX

Cross-London links have been mentioned in two previous issues. Now that Thameslink has been delayed until at least 2005, realistically the next show in town is going to be the extended East London line.

This will be more than just a stretched Underground shuttle providing only local services. As the biggest single missing link in the Outer Circle, it has the potential for both orbital and suburban cross-river services too. The northern extension through Hackney to Highbury, and potentially to Finsbury Park (a Thameslink 2000 route), already has legal powers. Now it is learned that London Underground has John Prescott's go-ahead to seek powers for southern extensions - one at New Cross Gate for Croydon, another south of Surrey Quays for Peckham Rye for Streatham-Wimbledon and Brixton-Clapham Junction.

A job for RDS - local branch and individual members - is to get behind ELLX and push it as London's next rail development. This means lobbying councillors to promote it in the Association of London Government (joint custodian with the Government Office for London of the pre-GLA Agenda of Transport Activities) and, as soon as they declare their hands, lobbying the candidates for London Mayor and members of the new assembly, to ensure that ELLX is number one on the agenda of (rail) transport for London.

Roger Blake, 70 Dynevor Road, Stoke Newington, London N16 ODX

Life Beyond Cars

I enjoyed reading Clara Zilahi's letter in the last edition of Railwatch about popping into King's Lynn by train for a prescription, then receiving the usual retort from her car-bound friend: "I bet the train causes more pollution than a dozen cars."

This type of argument completely misses the point about individual choice of transport mode. As we say in our book Life Beyond Cars (a snip at only £1.95): "It makes scarcely a pennyworth of difference to the fuel consumption of a train whether you're on it or not . . . by car, every mile you drive means more pollution, extra noise and more congestion". Now there's a prescription they don't sell in King's Lynn!

A D Smale, RDS Sales Officer, Broadheath, Fishers Hill, Catisfield, Fareham, Hants, P015 SQY

That name again

Once again the membership is being asked to change the RDS name. Why? And who is it who every so often pops ups and says it is wrong?

It needs to be spelt out that many companies trade under a set of initials, ABM, BBC, B&O, BP, GWR, IBM, ICL, ITV, KLM, LNER, LT, P&O, QANTAS, RHM, SVR and 3M all come to mind.

Given that RDS since 1983 has seen its membership grow from 930 to 3,000 plus today, the RDS brand must be working.

If RDS is to increase its membership further it needs to recruit women, who currently form 5% of active membership, and the under 30s age group generally. That means placing editorial in magazines read by the 17 plus age group. Most of those attending the rail users conference in London in September were over 40. That is a problem because actuarialy speaking 25% of men by age 55 are enrolled with the Grim Reaper! So the attrition rate in the active membership is set to run well ahead of the national average.

RDS could usefully absorb some lessons from other railway societies and run trains itself, joining ATOC in the process. Right now, some one third of reopened stations are operated by heritage diesel and steam traction.

Amateur railway societies are running trains on turnovers of £1 million per annum whereas the professionals are regularly turning in capital expenditure over-runs of tens of millions of pounds as a routine and allowing the taxpayer to foot the bill.

L I Elias, 10 Sandringham Road, Didcot OX11 8TP


I agree with Trevor Garrod's comments (Railwatch 77) re the disappearance of any programme for railway electrification. Railtrack, with a taxpayers' subsidy and a guaranteed income, has no intentions of taking a long-term view or any commercial risks. The programme of station renewals is a clever public relations exercise giving the impression Railtrack was almost doing the nation a favour, but most of it is just essential maintenance and renewal. In Railtrack's eyes the customer, the train operating companies, are not interested in electrification and this stems from the system of franchises which is purely short-term.

It is unlikely the Strategic Rail Authority will make much difference, it would need substantial funds, and that is unlikely, and therefore without a unified railway system only specialised examples of electification are likely.

Irving Nicol, 6 Beckinsale Grove, Crownhill, Milton Keynes, Bucks MK8 ODU

Missing integration

My letter in Railwatch77 was cut. It should have included the sentence: After nationalisation the Leighton Buzzard-Dunstable line continued to be operated as a London Midland service, instead of being integrated with the Eastern Region Dunstable-Hatfield service, as it ought to have been.

Martin Smith, 57 Bath Street Abingdon, Oxon OX14 lEA

Campaign target

It was stimulating to read my copy of Railwatch 77 with its several interesting articles relating to the White Paper. Yes, there is "No time to waste" and, yes, it is a "Golden Opportunity for Rail".

It was also good to read that RDS is working in a coalition of environmental and other organisations "urging the Government to press on with legislation to implement the policy changes" necessary to bring the White Paper into effect. But is RDS doing enough and doing the right things on its own initiative?

In this latter respect it is particularly good to read that the national executive is now looking at ways to make RDS more effective. It is a pity that more could not have been done sooner in this respect, in order to have been better prepared now that this "Golden Opportunity" has started to materialise. However, I wish all power to the national executive's elbow in its consideration of "Options for a 'new' RDS" particularly if changes to the committee structure can be made which will enable RDS to make the most of this "Golden Opportunity".

One of my own particular concerns is that even with the White Paper and the necessary legislation in place, the SRA and the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions will expect too much from the privatised industry, and, particularly so from Railtrack. No one, either in Railtrack, or the Government, or RDS, seems to have their sights set on a long-term strategy for making the national rail network what it needs to be. At least that is how it feels to me out here, even as a member of the London and South East Branch committee. In the RDS case this is perhaps owing to weaknesses in the existing committee structure. The idea of having a new Campaigns Committee is excellent. I hope this can be formed without undue delay, and, the sooner the better, with resources identified for it to operate with an employed officer to coordinate its RDS campaigns.

In my opinion, one of the first priorities for taking this "Golden Opportunity" is for RDS to identify its vision of the future. I suggest it could do this by starting to work on a campaign to make Britain's national rail network what it needs to be - both for passenger and freight.

Philip A Gruber, 4 Woodlands, Barrowfield, Hove, East Sussex BN3 6TJ

Facts of transport

Your note in response to Mr Angell's letter on the subject of subsidy to roads, cannot go unanswered.

This report contains every conceivable cost element of road transport, and I have already said to RDS that many of them are contentious, and would receive short shrift from the opposition.

Nevertheless, the key arguments are sound, notably the annual return of 8% on the asset value of roads, and the total costs of road accidents and breakdowns, which together account for 52% of the total.

Rather than hiding this report among a list of goods for sale, the society should be taking extracts from it, to prepare a lobbying document capable of influencing opinion at Governmental level, and circulating it widely.

Like Mr Angell, I believe that RDS has a blind spot, in that it concerns itself too much with the minutiae of rail transport, and not enough with the fundamentals of road and rail pricing, on which any progress in the future will depend.

Derek A Pimble, 23 Sherifoot Lane, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands B75 5DT

Design on the cheap

I write with reference to the comments made by Robert Cummings regarding the Class 142 Pacers. The statement that the poor design of these vehicles was testament to the "anti-rail policies of the previous government" I feel is at best inaccurate. While I am no fan of the previous government, surely the blame for the faults and poor ride characteristics in the Class 142 should rest with the designer? After all, railbuses had been built before the Class 142 (class 140 and 141); and experience with these units should have been incorporated into the 142.

As far as I am aware, the classes 143 and 144, built at a similar time to 142s but by a different supplier have not undergone such heavy re-engineering. The railbuses of the early 1980s were built to the cheapest design possible, due to lack of government funding, a decision that is now clearly regrettable.

However, this was not a new problem, successive governments failed to invest adequately in British Rail, resulting in the present situation where massive investments in track, signalling and rolling stock are required.

I hear a lot of rhetoric from the present government, but little decisive action. The shambles that is North West Trains is testament to this.

Mr Prescott professes to be pro-rail, but the punishment so far handed out to train-operating-companies failing to meet service requirements is laughable. We hear promises that train-operating-companies will be forced to improve standards, but can we really believe this, as these reassurances come from the same people who told us rail privatisation would bring better services and lower fares in the first place?

Dr Peter J Dowding, School of Chemistry, Cantocks Close, Bristol BS8 1TS

Queues blues

I received my Railwatch the same day I had to endure a lengthy queue at Grimsby Town booking office. Fortunately I had time to spare as I was not travelling that day but I could sense my fellow passengers being annoyed at the time they had to wait. That is not going to encourage them to use the train again. Now that conductors have machines which can issue tickets with a wide range of fares, why can't more travellers buy their tickets on the train? Many have to do so if a station is unstaffed or the booking office is closed. Incidentally, if a timetable was chained up near the office window, it would save an awful lot of time currently wasted on routine queries.

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

Electrify now

Further to Trevor Garrod's View in Railwatch 77, an example of lines crying out for electrification is surely the Great Western and Thames Trains routes out of London Paddington. Also, to overcome the anomaly of running diesel trains under electric wires would it not be possible to have trains that used electricity where it was available and switched to diesel power when the wires ran out?

Roger A Smith, 67 The Street, Little Waltham, Essex CM3 3NT

Unfair advantage

The decision announced in the integrated transport White Paper to exempt out-of-town shopping centres from a parking tax is retrogade. It will give hypermarkets an unfair advantage over town centre shops. One wonders whether Tesco's £6 million contribution to the Millennium Dome had any influence on the decision. Mr Prescott, by the way, seems to think that the way to get people out of their cars is to run lots of lovely buses, ignoring the fact that bus patronage has plum-meted since deregulation, while rail passenger traffic has risen in recent years.

Chris Wright, 83 Blackmoor Gate, Furzton, Milton Keynes MK4 1DD

What link?

My sister and I had very unsatisfactory journeys to and from the Isle of Wight in August. Late running of the catamaran operated by Wight Link meant we missed our train at Ryde by two minutes. On the way back, we just caught our train to London. Others did not. The services are shown as "connecting" but as our friends on the island commented: "There seem to be three companies doing their own thing."

Robert Dunn, 10 Tomlins Grove, London E3 4NX

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