Railwatch

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Railwatch 081 - October 1999

PLATFORM - Your letters

Freight fears

It's great to see a mini rail freight revival but for some reason, it seems to have bypassed the Edinburgh area, where Millerhill yard and the suburban freight line appear to be in terminal decline. The diminishing coal trains are simply not being replaced by new Enterprise/intermodal services which goes against the national trend. If Cockenzie power station closes down, I wonder if this route will some day be considered "surplus to requirements".

Colin Hyslop, 9 Bingham Medway, Edinburgh EH15 3NR

Satisfied customer

I am an elderly lady and have been a member of RDS for several years. I read Railwatch with interest, especially the letters, mostly throwing brickbats at the railways! Admittedly, I do not use commuter trains but for many years, I have travelled by long-distance trains(now Virgin) from New Street station, Birmingham, to Penzance, Northern England and Scotland to visit friends or on holiday.

On the whole, I have been well satisfied with the advice and even when problems have occurred, they have generally been sorted out. Consider these two examples:

In March, I travelled from Birmingham to Carlisle on a Saturday and was told when I booked that the journey would take considerably longer than usual because of essential maintenance on the main line. We went via Manchester and then on a line I didn't know existed and on to the Settle-Carlisle line (a bonus!) on a gloriously sunny afternoon, arriving in Carlisle 25 minutes early where I was met by a porter, arranged by Birmingham.

It's a good thing that the Settle-Carlisle line has been preserved for such diversions. Incidentally I signed a petition to keep it going 10 years ago. In June I booked to Penzance and when we left Birmingham on time, we were warned of delays - probably about an hour - owing to an accident just north of Crewe on the main line. Again, we were diverted via Manchester and regained the main line at Wigan. Detailed advice was given to passengers bound for Warrington (the station missed entirely) and also mention was made that the station at Wigan would be different from the main line one, five minutes walk away.

I always arrange for porters when I book my tickets (in person at New Street station) and it normally works well.

On both journeys mentioned, I was taken to the platform at New Street (down 30 steps) and met at destinations, all for free, and also on the return journeys which had no delays.

Miss Y M May, 20 Ormsby Court, 160 Harborne Road, Birmingham B15 3JD

Cheer yourself up

I wonder if Railwatch could give a mention of a book published in 1998 which is about rural matters and contains a chapter which expreses RDS views in a serious, informative way.

Town and Country, edited by Anthony Barnett and Roger Scruton, ISNB 0.224 05254.3 £12,99. Publisher Jonathan Cape. Chapter 21 attacks Beeching with facts, figures and Fiennes, while putting the case for rail reopenings in rural areas. I am sure other RDS members would be interested and heartened by it.

David Schofield, 5 Greenway Close, Halton, Leeds LS15 7DU

Fare confusion

I feel the prices quoted in The Great Rail Fares Rip-Off in Railwatch 80, do not represent a fair picture, in that you compare an Anglia peak-time ticket with a Great Eastern off-peak day return. At the beginning of June, I had to take a train to London before 9am and paid £30 (plus £2.80 for the Underground) from Bures to London and return (with Great Eastern).

Considering the shorter distance from Bures, I think the price is about the same. You are right however in criticising Anglia as the Network railcard is not valid on their inter-city trains and the £3 surcharge for bicycle carriage is also something that makes me choose Great Eastern trains rather than Anglia.

Apart from this slight criticism, Railwatch is a superb magazine.

Hildegard Hill, Two Hoots, Hall Road, Mount Bures, Bures, Suffolk CO8 5AS

Editor's note The fares quoted in Railwatch 80 were on offer for trains leaving Liverpool Street within a few minutes of each other so they were both operating at peak times (but against the peak flow). Anglia does have some attractive cheaper fares but they have to be pre-booked, not always possible.

Safeguarding future

In an ideal world, the following new railways could be built in Scotland: Invergordon to Wick via Dornoch and Lybster; Oban to Fort William with a branch to Kinlochleven; A line to Ullapool; Extending the Kyle of Lochalsh across Skye to Uig; Extending the Far North line to Kirkwall, incorporating a train ferry service from John o'Groats to Burwick.

Any land over which any of theses suggested railways would be built, should be protected from adverse development, with clauses stating explicitly that the land is nit being protected to provide roads. Should not this be done already?

A D Bell, 7 Ellwood Gardens, Gateshead NE9 5DU

Welsh Highland

As you will know, on Monday 28 June, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions approved the application of the Festiniog Railway Company (FRC) for an Order under the Transport and Works Act to reconstruct the Welsh Highland Railway (WHR) between Dinas and Portmadog.

FRC is now immediately getting down to work on the implementation of this project, in order to bring to North Wales as rapidly as possible the environmental and economic benefits of the WHR. The Secretary of State's decision simply would not have been secured without the enthusiasm of our key supporters, amongst whom RDS was one of the most influential.

I wanted to let you know that your support is deeply appreciated by all of us at FRC. In the meantime, I will keep you informed of developments. Many thanks once again.

Mike Hart, chairman, Rheilffordd Ffestiniog Railway, Gorsaf, Yr Harbwr, Portmadog, Gwynedd LL49 9NF

Piggyback

The article in July's edition of Railwatch on the Piggybank Gauge was most timely. The Rail Freight Group is right in supporting a piggyback spine route from the Channel Tunnel to Scotland.

The proposed Central Railway goes a long way to meet the concerns of the Rail Freight Group. By utilising much of the trackbed of the former Great Central, it will provide a piggyback spine route to the East Midlands and the North of England. This will allow a free flow of intermodal traffic from North of London to mainland Europe. Lorry traffic would be transferred from road to rail, and industry would have much easier access to Europe.

Railtrack's scheme to establish the W10 gauge on the West Coast main line, is unsatisfactory. Piggyback traffic in Europe would not be able to run beyond the Channel Tunnel. Moreover, the West Coast Main Line has little spare capacity for freight traffic. The problem of capacity applies to the Midland main line and the East Coast main line too.

The Central Railway has the support of a number of local authorities and businesses. The RDS has already expressed its support, and the North Midlands branch is enthusiastic about the scheme.

J A Thelwell, chairman, North Midlands RDS, 49 Wolds Drive, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5FT

Another way round

A recent issue of Modern Railways included an article entitled "Virgin Upgrades Cross Country". It included the statement: "These units are likely to provide a 'shuttle' service between Birmingham and Brighton/Bournemouth/Padd-ington." The same article goes on to mention the need for "capacity work to provide additional paths between Didcot and Reading".

Why Paddington? With services by three routes to Euston and Marylebone, do we in the West Midlands really need one to Paddington too? I know deleting that service or better diverting it to say Weymouth via Chippenham, wouldn't eliminate the need for 'capacity work to provide additional paths between Didcot and Reading', but it would ease the congestion between Didcot and Paddington.

But if there must be a West Midlands to Paddington service, why not go with Chiltern over the old GW/GC route as far as Northolt Junction South Ruislip, and go express perhaps stopping only at at Bicester North and High Wycombe. Chiltern is a victim of its own success and its trains tend to be crowded south of Princes Risborough.

I know the West London line is very congested on its way across the Thames, but there is a way in which Chiltern could perhaps ease pressure on Marylebone. By following the link under the LUL Central Line at Greenford, they could connect with Silverlink and Connex at Kensington Olympia and then connect into the LUL District and Circle lines by a terminal operation at Earl's Court just as the predecessors of Silverlink did many years ago.

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

Customer resentment

Your note in Railwatch 80 about the introduction of Premier Class by Northern Spirit on its TransPennine service rightly comments that "it will certainly not reduce the problem of overcrowding". Yet our railway companies have long supported the idea that some passengers deserve better treatment than others.

I remember the days when "second class passengers" were advised to go to a certain part of the platform for their accommodation. And also being annoyed when weekend trains had a surfeit of First Class seats, while the rest of us were forced to - in some cases - stand. Today I remain angry with the companies that provide special lounges for those travelling First Class, individuals who can probably charge their ticket cost to 'the company' anyway.

Really, such elitism ought to be out of place in a modern transport network, especially if it reduces the service to the ordinary impoverished traveller. Which it does, through lessening their seat availability. So while Northern Spirit are right to want to make things more comfortable for passengers, they're certainly wrong to only better the lot of a privileged few.

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

Bus connections

The rail enquiry service (0345 484950) could be improved if strategic bus information was available. I asked how to get from Clitheroe to Skipton and was routed via Blackburn, (change trains) and Bradford where I would have had to make my way from Interchange to Forster Square. The journey time was three hours so I didn't ask the fare but it would probably have been huge.

However there is a bus from Preston to Skipton which takes 40 minutes from Clitheroe to Skipton. It doesn't serve the rail stations so is a little inconvenient for rail travellers but it is probably better than a three-hour rail journey. This bus service also gives access to the Settle-Carlisle line from Preston.

Edgar Locke, 3 Langton Court, Langton Road, Worthing BN14 7BZ

Lancashire bus information line: 0870 608 2608, Skipton tourist information: 01756 792809

Alternative vision

Peter Moore stresses the lack of an inter-city service from the south into Bradford (Railwatch 80), and proposes various reopenings to address this problem. Ignoring the Interchange-Forster Square link, which would be very expensive, his main proposals involve reopening Low Moor to Thornhill (the Spen Valley line) and the Crigglestone curve.

While these reopenings are highly desirable and would provide opportunities for local travel around Cleckheaton, there is a simpler way to gain access to Bradford from the south.

This wouldn't require relaying any track at all, once the Huddersfield-Halifax link is open sometime next year. It involves extending the newly established Midland Mainline service from Barnsley to Huddersfield along the Penistone Line, then via the new link to Halifax and so to Bradford. It would provide a direct link from Bradford to Sheffield, Nottingham, Luton Airport and St Pancras, following a route very similar to the old South Yorkshireman.

Penistone Line Partnership is campaigning for the restoration of a direct link between Huddersfield and London, an objective which has considerable support in the business community. GNER are singularly unenthusiastic about the suggestion that they should provide a through train to Kings Cross, but Midland Mainline are a different proposition. Almost alone amongst the new railway companies they appear to be actively seeking to attract new customers and expand the network. I very much hope that the Barnsley service will prove successful and that, before long, Midland Mainline look to reach new destinations, like Huddersfield and Bradford.

Gavin Macpherson, secretary, Penistone Line Partnership, 66 Town End Road, Holmfirth, Huddersfield HD7 1XT

Credibility squeeze

Your front page article "Mind the policy gap" concludes with the statement that Railtrack's current Network Management Statement becomes more vague the more you examine it. One very definite proposal is Railtrack's ambition to take over the northern section of London's Circle Line and convert it into a cut-price CrossRail. However Railtrack is vague, in fact completely silent, about how they intend to squeeze more trains on to the already congested section of line between Baker Street and Liverpool Street, without curtailing London Underground services. Will they terminate all Metropolitan trains at Baker Street, and Hammersmith and City trains at Paddington? If Heathrow Express and Thames Trains are willing to pay higher access charges than LUL, then Underground passengers will be left out in the cold.

John Prescott has embraced Railtrack's proposal with great enthusiasm, claiming that it will give us a "joined-up railway system", but then, John Prescott is not very good at joined-up thinking. Railtrack's cheap substitute for CrossRail is a ploy to support its bid to take over the subsurface lines of London Underground, and should be rejected out of hand. The danger is that John Prescott will accept Railtrack's bid as a way of getting the East London Line extensions built at no cost to the Government. Fortunately, all three of the main contenders for the mayoralty of London (J Archer, K Livingstone and T Philips) have declared their opposition to the privatisation of the Undergound which, hopefully, will be delayed until after the London elections next year.

I seem to remember an occasion, not many years ago, when the then Labour shadow transport minister Glenda Jackson staged a photo opportunity, cutting up a large map of the London Underground, and declaring this would never happen under Labour. The Government's proposals to partially privatise the Underground will be even more disastrous than the sale of Railtrack, and should be withdrawn.

There are other ways to raise the money to modernise the Underground, and to build a proper CrossRail which have the capacity to take all the Heathrow, Thames Trains and Chiltern services through to central London and Essex.

Martin Smith, 57 Bath Street, Abingdon, Oxon. 0X14 lEA

Tube shock

I am astonished that there is not more protest about the Government's plans to break up the London Underground, an example of what an integrated rail system should be like. In particular, the proposal to hand over subsurface lines to Railtrack is particularly awful. The reputation of Railtrack is less than encouraging. And it has a strange idea of running its own trains on to the Underground. This is already fully stretched in rush hours in central London, and services will hardly benefit from any attempt to squeeze more trains in. What is more, a transition from main line rail to Underground would only be practicable at Richmond, Barking or Harrow. At Richmond or Barking it would mean a change in the electric supply system. At Harrow it would mean diesels - and we would not want to be poisoned by diesel fumes on the Underground.

Cedric A B Smith, 141 Portland Crescent, Stanmore, Middlesex HA7 1LR

Magic buses

Some railway supporters make out that the bus is a second-class form of transport. The new low-floor articulated buses can carry bikes and wheelchairs. As far as environmental impact is concerned, the bus companies are beginning to show up the railway companies which have far too many dirty diesels spewing out clouds of smoke in stations. A strong case for electrification?

The Wensleydale Railway Association has indeed been far-sighted enough to see that bustitution can be used to build up a market for a reopened railway and then to complement it by providing links to the many places that railways cannot reach. When comparing bus and rail, as long as like is compared with like, rail will usually win. Value for money should always be an important consideration, providing that it road traffic reduction and a level-playing field on safety are also included in the criteria.

I hope to see many more rail reopenings in urban and rural areas. I also hope to see modern buses used to complement the services. New bus services can be created much more quickly than rail reopening. We should not be afraid of this Government's commitment to better bus services. The buses do not challenge the pre-eminence of the railway. They do challenge us to make sure we put forward logical and sensible arguments for railway expansion.

Ray Wilkes, 29 Tower Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire BD18 4BP ray@wilkes.force9.co.uk

Quiet mopeds

I was annoyed by the criticism of mopeds and small motorcycles in Railwatch 80. In urban areas correctly maintained powered two wheelers are generally quieter than cars, although their sounds may sometimes be more distinguishable from the general hubbub.

Dr Ian Morgan, 75 Queens Road, Royston, Hertfordshire, SG8 7AN itmorgan@nildram.co.uk

Intermodal motorcycle

I thought your Railwatch 80 mention of noisy mopeds and small motor-cycles a bit silly, and quite frankly bigoted regarding powered two wheelers. I use a motorcycle to get to the three main line stations in my area - Peterborough, Kettering and Northampton - for onward travel for business meetings and conferences throughout the country.

However, while I carry a folding brolly in my briefcase, it is dreadful having to park in the open and take one's over-suit off in the rain (about a two minute process) before packing it in the panniers. A simple covered area would enable a less painful modal interchange and keep my business suit dry. This would also be the case for cyclists.

On wet days I am sorely tempted to use the car but prefer to leave that for my wife in case she needs it - and anyway, the roads are blocked enough with high energy-use cars - the powered two-wheeler is a much greener alternative where distance precludes walking and cycling.

And just to put the record straight, my motorcycle produces just 80DBA which is much quieter than many new cars, uses a catalytic converter, and uses less fuel and resources in its manufacture and usesless road space thereby causing less congestion and less valuable land for car parks (there, I've got that off my chest).

The train is by far the friendliest mode environmentally but some of us do need to be able to get to the station without being forced to use the car. Modal interchange must take into account all modes of travel from walking, cycling, motorcycling, cars and buses.

Facilities must enable easy transfer between modes to enhance the travel experience over the total journey - otherwise the very thought of a difficult interchange could persuade travellers to avoid changing altogether!

Councillor Jim Wade, Northamptonshire County Council

Editor's note: As a motorcyclist for the past 40 years, I recognise their advantages. But they also create tremendous problems, mainly when ridden by young, inexperienced people, in a dangerous way. Even worse, in London, people are being encouraged by advertisers not to "waste" money on season tickets and buy a motor scooter instead. The Government's attitude of encouraging "powered two wheelers" does not seem like a transport solution to me, more like a sop to the road lobby.

Loop the loop

We are calling for Transpennine services be extended in 2001 to provide a more reliable service for Sunderland, Hartlepool and Stockton from York, Leeds and Liverpool. The current frequency could be doubled for very little cost in staff time and the deployment of only one extra train.

Our idea is to run half the trains via Newcastle as at present and the other half via the coast line. This "loop the loop" pattern of running - which we know is practical - would enable many Hartlepool journey times to be cut by an hour!

Peter Walker, Coastliners, 26 Devon Crescent, Billingham, Clevelan

Letters should be sent to: The Editor, Railwatch, 4 Christchurch Square, London E9 7HU. Fax: 0181 985 8212

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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