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Railwatch 078 - December 1998

Railwatch - Councils must get on track

In a workshop debate about lobbying local authorities, Andrew Long named Bedfordshire as one council which had done little or nothing for rail and was now standing in the way of the East-West rail link which is supported by other councils right across the country.

"I look in vain in Bedforshire's Transport Policies and Programme for any interest in rail. There is not even a rail map or a list of stations in the county.

"When the travel centre on Bedford station closed, Bedfordshire County Council said nothing.

"Does the council know or care that I can't even get a Midland Mainline timetable there because it is a Thameslink-run station?

"Do they care that when the new MML Turbostars start running next year, Bedford will get a train every hour, while all the other stations like Kettering, Wellingborough and Maket Harborough will get a train every half hour.

"Yet it is Bedford which should get more stops because you can interchange there with Thameslink and with Silverlink trains to Bletchley.

"Does the council know or care?

"It has granted planning permission in the past for buildings over old rail alignments which should have been maintained as linear routes."

Andrew, a former policy adviser to BR, said: "Sadly some local authorities do not perceive rail users to be important. Many give nothing to rail."

In some corridors, such as Cambridge to London rail had more than 60% of the market.

But he added: "Even if rail is carrying only 5% in any given corridor, we ought to demand 5% of the council's transport budget.

"All the local authorities need to get on track. We must put pressure on them to look after rail users.

"Charging for road use or even parking, should provide them with the 5 or 10% necessary in some areas. Yet in some county council structure plans which have a life of 10 or 15 years rail was not even mentioned. "Some don't even bother to put signs up showing where the rail station is. In their green commuter plans, how many mention rail?

"In their Travelwise initiatives, how may mention rail?

"But maybe now our time has come. Those councils should be taking note of John Prescott's message in his White Paper.

"We need to make an input at an early stage, demanding new stations, lines and services. In the old Greater London Council and the Metropolitan authorities which Mrs Thatcher abolished, there were strong and established procedures which have not been replicated after privatisation. And there was also the problem of different attitudes from councils when trains crossed boundaries. "That is why some trains supported by Derbyshire have to terminate at Stockport when they should be travelling through to Manchester Piccadilly.

Many of the officers responsible for transport are highway engineers and know little or nothing about rail or any other form of transport.

Even district councils are now supposed to take land use into account in their transport plans which should mean rail is favoured.

"The old one-year Transport Policies and Programmes are now to be replaced by five-year Local Transport Plans which will set targets for traffic and pollution reduction.

"We need to get rail included in the first LTPs which will come into operation between 2000-5.


Mr Long stated that a report which said the line from Newark to Lincoln could be electrified at a cost of only £20 million was followed the day after by GNER announcing that it would not be interested in providing rail services to Lincoln.

"Luckily two or three days later, WAGN said it would be interested in operating a Lincoln-Portsmouth service," he said.

"We must get in there and say yes we want that service. This new service could be provided for the cost of building two new bypasses.

"There are local authorities which are supportive of rail, for instance in Ebbw Vale, Strathclyde, Staffordshire and Cumbria, which is hoping to see Shap, Tebay and Milnthorpe reopened.

Roadmen in DETR

Maybe it is time for RDS to produce a "best practice" guide which would act as an incentive to the laggards, said Mr Long who also warned that there were still people in the Department of Transport who had stood in the way of rail and had promoted road schemes with enthusiasm and who were not interested in unified land use and transport planning.

But Peter Wakefield of East Anglia said that it was often district councils who only thought of roads and were not supportive of rail.

Tony Walker of North East said it would be useful to quote the White Paper when asking councils to consider make rail improvements.

On rail reopenings, he said we should be more pro-active. If a building blocked the rail route, we should seek a compulsory purchase order.

Many buildings had been demolished to make way for roads.

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