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Railwatch 080 - July 1999

PLATFORM - Your letters

Core electrification

As a new member of RDS, I am glad to see frequent references in Railwatch articles and letters to the absence of a core electrification programme from Railtrack's network management statement.

The new set-up on the railways actually inhibits long-term vision such as electrification. The first duty of private companies is to their shareholders. Some would say it is the only duty they bother about. To this end, making money is what it is all about, that is, short-term gain, something which instantly militates against electrification.

In addition, the ridiculously short franchises also prevent electrification, even add-on schemes. Connex, which actually proposed some electrification in exchange for a franchise extension was turned down. Incredible!

In Europe it is noteworthy that the majority of countries with extensive and still expanding electrification programmes have state railway systems. Here by contrast, the pre-nationalisation systems, the Southern excepted, had a dismal record. Indeed the UK has actually dismantled two electric networks, which is a signal achievement in a country with so few electrified lines.

It seems private railways equal diesels while state railways equal electrics. In Britain we can only hope for an electrification programme if it is part of the vision of the Strategic Rail Authority. We shall wait in vain if we wait for the train operators and Railtrack.

RDS will need a new strategy if it is successfully to advocate a core electrification programme. It must focus on Messrs Morton, Winsor and Grant. Forget the train operators and that purveyor of miasmic network management statement fogs, Railtrack, which has even had to be instructed to repair its track. Ye gods!

As an example of the train operators' approach to electrification, one need look no further than Scotland where Glasgow and Edinburgh, each with wires aplenty, are to be linked in our brave new railway world by diesels! Need one say more?

John Gilbert, Ranalt, 27 Pixiefield, Cradley, Herefordshire WR13 5ND

Reopening support

I was glad to see Roger Barlow's article, One for the West, in Railwatch. It would be an enormous benefit to the area if the Somerset and Dorset Railway was to be even partially reinstated, especially, as Roger mentioned, for towns such as Blandford Forum.

But as time goes by, more and more of it is being destroyed and built on. Legislation urgently needs to be put in place to stop this continuing, if there is to be any hope whatsoever of reinstating the S&D in the future.

Michael Blandamer, 25 Ramsbury Court, Blandford, Dorset DT11 7UF M.Blandamermb1097@soton.ac.

Refreshing change

How refreshing it was to see directions to the RDS AGM without any mention of nearest car parks or motorway junctions.

Clive Parsons, 7 Willowslea Road, Worcester WR3 7QP

Information please

Train operators should make an effort to show more details in their timetable booklets of other rail operators' connecting services.

In the Connex timetable booklet, Thameslink trains are shown at Sutton and Tulse Hill but there is plenty of space to show Thameslink train times at King's Cross and Luton for instance. Connex should also consider extending their current Victoria to Horsham services to Littlehampton, thus doubling the service on the line to Arundel and providing better connections with Thameslink at Sutton.

Colin Palmer, 28 Stevens Close, Epsom, Surrey KT17 4RG c.palmer@waacis.edex.co.uk

Public transport tax

Transport Minister John Reid has increased the amount of money which light rail promoters have to pay for alterations to electric, gas, water and sewerage systems while leaving unchanged the amount that road promoters have to pay.

It is not yet clear whether the increased contributions will also have to be paid by heavy rail reopening schemes. Proposals for using disused routes - where many cycle routes are currently being created - to lay mains services might lead to very large expenses for any future rail reopening scheme.

I cannot really understand why the Government would impose extra charges on light rail when it claims to favour public transport.

Alan Crowhurst, 2 Clematis Cottages, Hopton Bank, Cleobury Mortimer, Kidderminster DY14 0HF

Real world

I agree that buses can never replace trains and I can't help wondering whether those such as Transport Minister Glenda Jackson have any real experience of what typical bus journeys are like.

Buses often get stuck in traffic and have lengthy waits at traffic lights. One-person operation means long delays at stops, especially when prospective passengers are unsure of their destination. And then there's the leg room!

Even on guided busways, buses would be restricted to 65mph, compared to a Sprinter's 90mph. Constructing a busway also costs more than using existing rail tracks. RDS has done well to campaign against busways on rail tracks.

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

Sand and cycle

I am concerned about Wales & West's proposal to withdraw the loco-hauled Sand and Cycle Explorer from the end of the summer timetable. This six-coach train is to be replaced by a four-coach Sprinter 150, which will mean the loss of at least 50 seats, 20 bike spaces, all table facilities and 10 toilets. This is a pretty dismal response to the need to put passengers back on the trains.

There has been a growth of 21% in passenger usage on the Bristol-Weymouth line in the past five years but this will soon be reversed and I can only see a downward trend in future, unless more trains are run, not less.

Wales & West should reverse this decision. How will they hope to deal with seasonal demand in future? If they cannot run a suitable service perhaps other operators could do better when "open access" is allowed later this year.

Mike Ware, Flat 1, 5 Great Stanhope Street, Bath BA1 2BQ

Bustitution

Trevor Garrod's assurance (Railwatch 79) that RDS will campaign vigorously on the bustitution threat is timely. But we need to decide who should be the target of such campaigning, and what form our arguments should take. Statistics, such as those quoted by Trevor, plus evidence that 40% of car drivers are prepared to consider trains as an alternative but perhaps only a tenth of that number would forsake the car for a bus, are important.

But bustitution seems inevitable if the railways are left to market forces, where franchisees are given a free hand as to where to concentrate their management and marketing resources. Marginal lines however can be viable. Past experience in Wales, for example, proves that vigorous marketing can bring in many more passengers, and when this was done, the Valley Lines and West Wales routes were much nearer break-even than they are today. It could be argued that the marginal services are more in need of marketing than the core routes.

Micro-franchising has been suggested as a possible solution. Another option might be to specify future franchise contracts in a more geographically detailed way. At present, the Franchise Director and train operators are happy if passenger journeys across the franchise in total are growing. Future contracts could stipulate at least that every line must be kept on an even keel, or preferably that a certain minimum growth target must be met on every line.

Unfortunately there is no indication of things going this way, at least not in the medium term. The actions of train operators like Wales & West are making bustitution more likely, especially if the Government is interested only in actual loadings rather than potential loadings. Clearly the directions given to the Franchising Director/SRA for franchise renewals (or extensions) will be critical, so perhaps this is an area for RDS to address.

Peter Clark, 84 North Street, Abergavenny NP7 7ED

Millennium Dome

It is rather late in the day to suggest this, but why has the main line railway not been extended to the Dome site? As an old gasworks, the site was connected to the railway which still serves Angerstein Wharf not far away.

All that is needed, therefore, is to relay about a mile of track and build a station. This could be served (via the triangle at Charlton) by a regular service from Charing Cross, Waterloo East and London Bridge. Other services could be to Victoria and to almost anywhere in the country for specials.

Peter Fleming, 7 Station Road, Dunstable, Bedfordshire LU5 4HS

Pacers have friends

Why is all this unwarranted opprobrium being heaped upon the Pacer? There is nothing wrong with them that a rolling programme of continuously welded rail cannot put right, by improving their ride quality!

C A Potts, 5 Hillfield Court, Hillcrest, Whitehaven CA28 6TR

Bradford services

I reply to Councillor Rowland Dale (Railwatch 78), with a sympathetic question about improving services to Bradford.

It is a while since I heard of any proposal to open the former Low Moor to Thornhill Junction line via Cleckheaton. With re-instatement also of the Horbury to Crigglestone Junction spur, this offers a direct route from Bradford to Barnsley and Sheffield. I understand all is in good condition, and has so far been protected from other development.

This would appear to offer three levels of new service. Does it feature in anyone's plans? High- speed trains from London and Leicester to Sheffield could be extended to Bradford. Not long ago, Midland Mainline seemed interested in possible new destinations beyond Sheffield, such as Barnsley.

Central Trains services between East Anglia and the North West could be very much affected by Railtrack's interest in reopening the Peak route. If services making the present detour via Sheffield were to take a new short cut between Derby and Manchester, it would make good sense to explore an East Anglia service via Nottingham to Sheffield and Bradford.

I am sure there is also a case for local traffic, with station re-openings at Low Moor, Cleckheaton, Liversedge, either Heckmondwike or a new site at Dewsbury Moor, and Horbury; and a Northern Spirit stopping service between Bradford, Barnsley and Sheffield.

This might well take a few years to achieve, but it would strengthen the case for the next step: to make the long-awaited link between Bradford Interchange and Forster Square. With the electrification advocated by Chris Packham (Railwatch 79), imagine Skipton-Bradford services one day going across the city to Sheffield, or Ilkley, trains through to Halifax and Huddersfield! In 10 years, a Thames-Clyde Express could run through the heart of Bradford, instead of reversing at Leeds! I mean no disrespect to Leeds. It rightly deserves the £165million station redevelopment and track remodelling at the west end to ease existing congestion. But what about a strategy for Bradford too, and how much to reopen Bradford-Barnsley for new rail services?

David Bousfield, 18 Sibsey Street, Lancaster LA1 5DF

Tickets to Europe

We offer a complete tickets and reservation service for European rail journeys, including Eurostar and the ferries. We can also prepare itineraries and provide railpasses.

Vic Allen, Trainseurope, 146 Forest Hill Road, London SE23 3QR 0181 699 3654 Fax: 0181 291 6496

Euro link

The idea of InterCity 125s from the North and Midlands being reintroduced to Waterloo for Eurostar connections could cause congestion problems on the West Coast main line and the West London line but if they were routed via Leamington Spa, Banbury, Oxford and Guildford, they could be extended to Ashford for a Eurostar connection.

However, having come that close to the tunnel, why not go through it? With some infill electrification between Reading and Coventry, Eurostars could use the route.

Electrification of the short route between Birmingham and Nuneaton would also help to relieve problems caused by a lack of paths through Coventry. That route could also be used by Connex to get to Birmingham.

Peter A Moore, 24 Charles Watson Court, Shuckburgh Grove, Leamington Spa CV32 7NT

Sky high prices

I recently had occasion to deliver a helicopter from Redhill to Sherburn-in-Elmet airfield in Yorkshire. Two of us returned to Redhill by GNER, buying one-way tickets at Leeds. On a direct-cost basis for two people, the helicopter was cheaper.

pat.malone@newsint.co.uk

Cambrian Express

Big improvements are needed on the West Midlands-Aberystwyth route. The first train does not arrive in Aberystwyth until 11.14 making a day trip from the Midlands difficult. A Cambrian Express service is necessary.

And what about the black hole in Scotland's rail network, Fort William-Inverness? On what could be called the Great Glen or Nessie line, trains could call at some or all of the following stations: Torlundy (for Aaonach Mo ski area), Spean Bridge, Invergarry, Fort Augustus and Drumnadrocht.

The tourism potential of the far North and Kyle lines being linked to the West Highland lines is staggering.

It would be far easier to access the Orkney and Shetland ferries, there is freight potential and the line would provide people living in the area with job opportunities in Inverness. It could be more than just a rail rover's dream.

H A G Jackson, 16 Castle Road, Walsall Wood, West Midlands WS9 9BY

Penalising pensioners

Was Alan Dodson really proposing (Railwatch 79) that those fortunate enough to have savings and/or pensions should be penalised financially to a level that may discourage them from using rail? What an appallingly self-centred, small minded suggestion. Surely RDS stands for encouraging all to use rail?

Aidan Rankin's rant against L I Elias also reveals a disturbing tendency. If we identify differences in the demographic make-up of the RDS relative to the general population, let us try to close the gap by attracting new members.

Does Mr Rankin wish to perpetuate the RDS stereotype of the white, middle-aged and single male, who probably hasn't grown out of gricing? Let us destroy this (all too obvious) stereotype with gusto!

Dr J T Gauntlett,48 Harrogate Road, Eastham, Wirral, L62 8ES

Going green?

Railtrack has an Environmental Handbook, but do the train operating companies?

Recently I bought, via telephone, an Apex return ticket for myself and bicycle and received 10 (yes 10) tickets through the post, each of which was four times bigger than those bought over the counter and printed on higher quality paper/card. Why do they not try to save trees and energy?

When buses/coaches, for whatever reason, are substituted for trains should not the customer receive an automatic refund? After all if I wanted to go by coach I would contact a firm supplying such a service and travel at a lower fare. Any excuse that it would be difficult to administer is a nonsense - that is what administrators are paid to do. It would surely concentrate the minds of the TOCs when deciding whether to use buses.

John Geraghty, Broadfields Road, Broadfields, Exeter EX2 5QY

Let's work together

I was disturbed by the article, Bikes, buses and trains, in Railwatch 79. Campaigners for the above should be co-operating, not fighting each other.

It doesn't necessarily follow that the best use of a disused railway alignment is to reopen the railway. To say that it is, is to be guilty of the sort of dogma we see from political parties.

Sometimes a cycle path is the best option and where that is so, we should recognise it. Where a railway should be reopened, a cycle path on the alignment is still not the enemy implied by the article.

It is surely far better to have a cycle path than to have to contend with supermarkets or housing blocking the way, which is often the alternative. Let's work together for the good of all environmental transport. If we are divided, the only winner will be the road lobby.

Julian Langston 4 Lloyd Avenue, Llandaff, Cardiff CF5 2BX

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