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Railwatch 086 - November 2000

Platform - your letters

Reopening ignored

With large sums earmarked for rail investment in the Government's 10 year transport plan, it is disappointing that little if any mention is made of reopening closed routes. Restoring railways to areas previously deprived of them should be a priority.

The £30billion proposed for road building would be enough to fund the reopening of every line in the country, putting nearly everyone within easy reach of a station, giving rural inhabitants the confidence to do without cars and also boosting local buses, walking and cycling.

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

Mobile advantage

One of the key advantages that trains have over cars is that people can work on board with no risk to others. One of the main tools is the telephone and, whilst most journeys are relatively short, the use of the train as a mobile office has to be a good thing. I would agree that it can be annoying but this can be covered by the use of mobile-free coaches.

Jay Benson, 29 Makeney Road, Holbrook, Belper DE56 0TZ jay@holbrook.demon.co.uk

'Better by bus'

Mr Martindale (Railwatch 85) wishes to replace a half-hourly coach service from Penrith station door to Keswick with an hourly train service. The coaches serve Threlkeld village and the environs of Keswick. Every hour there is a through coach to Cockermouth, serving other villages, which carries on to Workington. Our local Civic Trust fought hard for this service and we do not want to lose it. The cost of the rail reopening would give us a free bus service for 100 years.

Just because a railway was closed is not sufficient reason to reopen it. There has to be a good reason, for example, the Wensleydale line and the Waverley line, both of which I strongly support.

Mr T C Hughes, 17 Willow Lane, Cockermouth, Cumbria CA13 9DP

Bus partnership

Your correspondent Edgar Locke says "buses can be partners to the railways", and refers to France and Germany. My experience of European travel is that very often the bus meets the train to take people to places where the train does not go.

However bus enthusiasts too often pursue their desire for comprehensive bus services to the detriment of rail users. In the past, rail services were competed against and then substituted by buses. Sometimes the railway closed and the bus services were either withdrawn or fragmented. This left the passengers at a disadvantage and often people turned to cars.

When a railway is reopened, buses still have a feeder role but sadly some promote buses, to the detriment of rail development. Bus replacement of trains as a policy has failed miserably. The cheap and easy option is not always the best.

Richard Pill, 24c St Michael's Road, Bedford MK40 2LT

Regional Eurostars

While agreeing with Chris Packham's view (Railwatch 84) that regional Eurostars would provide few benefits f or passengers or for the environment, I would like to point to two exceptions which ought at least to be considered (not least as I would use them!).

  • Sleepers direct to the near-Continent (Paris, Brussels, Lille) from the North and Scotland. Glasgow-Paris would be about nine hours, just right for a good night's sleep. Indeed, now we have the Channel Tunnel, the UK should join the TEN (Trans-Europe by Night) sleeper system as soon as possible. Equally attractive would be direct sleepers from London to Lyons, Geneva, Marseilles and the south of France generally.
  • The elderly, infirm and those with small children or lots of luggage find the hassle of changing stations in London, whether by Tube or taxi, just too much to bear. There is therefore a strong case for extending a few Eurostars to Reading for the West Country and South Wales, and to Watford Junction, which has reasonable connections to North Wales, much of the North and the Midlands, without having to change stations.

An alternative would be to offer national connections at Ashford, but I suspect that might be difficult, given that the Kent rail system is overcrowded already.

Nicholas Howard, Johnby Hall Penrith, Cumbria CA11 0UU

Action needed

I look forward to reading your news from cover to cover, but once again Railwatch 85 holds very little of interest in my area. No sign of activity in South Central or South Eastern, yet in the "prosperous South East", we still ride in Mk1 slam-door coaches to a timetable practically the same as the 1960s. Do all commuters in this area accept that nothing can be done to dissuade more of them from taking to the roads? We were promised Networkers by Chris Green before Network SouthEast was broken up but that was a long time ago. Are they still coming?

John Pearson, 2 Mercers, Hawkhurst TN18 4LH

Train cancelled!

Your Mid Wales report (Railwatch 85) urges RDS members to use the 15.38 (timetable 81 says 15.41) Saturdays only Chester to Runcorn main line, via the Halton Junction curve. I was keen to accommodate this plea in my recent Freedom of the North West Rail Rover, but, at 15.25 on 26 August 2000, the Chester TV monitor announced "train cancelled". Some 20 minutes earlier, the booking clerk I approached did not know of the train's existence, but following a computer search, confirmed it was definitely running.

I must say people in the North West as a whole know how to behave and respect property, as we, in the relatively squalid South East, do no longer. There is an entirely different culture of discipline. All stations, urban or rural, seemed smart, up-to-date and well maintained. There was no graffiti with the exception of the exit from Piccadilly and at Southport. Of the 77 trains I used, 69 were on time, with the others only a few insignificant minutes late. All trains were generally smart, with none of the graffiti, damaged or repaired upholstery and scratched windows that have become a social curse in the South East.

People behaved well on trains, even when in groups. The public seemed cheerful by contrast with the customary miserable, selfish attitudes so often displayed here in the south east. I also welcomed the strict, regular inspections of tickets by travelling conductors, even over the very shortest distances.

Bruce Oliver, 59 Chelsea Road, Southsea, Hants PO5 1NH br@59oliver.fsnet.co.uk

Railtrack cash

Is there a distinct RDS Reopenings Fund I can donate my Railtrack share dividend to? If so, to whom do I send the cheque, and what should it be payable to?

Graham Larkbey, 35 Carr Road, London E17 5ER G-Larkbey@dfid.gov.uk

RDS general secretary Trevor Garrod writes: There is no specific reopenings fundbut we have a Rail Defence Fund to hep local campaigns against cuts and closuresand to safeguard trackbeds where there is a case for reopening. Donations to RDSor specifically to the Rail Defence Fund can be sent to me. Please make chequespayable to Railway Development Society.

Car culture

With all the pages in our newspapers devoted to cars, shouldn't there be some space with news of the public transport world?

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

Wales rails

If the single franchise for Wales goes ahead, there should also be a Welsh Strategic Rail Authority Office, a single Railtrack zone for Wales and proper resources for rail made available via the Welsh Assembly.

Mervyn Matthews, Welsh Railways Action Group, Stonewalls, 5a Broadway, Cowbridge CF71 7ER

Pennine treasure

Peter Rayner was right when he says the Woodhead route has a lot going for it (Railwatch 85). It has generous clearances to accept any kind of freight wagons EWS or Freightliner decided to send through it. I'm fed up with people questioning the cost of reopening it. How much money was wasted lifting the track?

J D Spinks, 17 Glenbank Close, Walton, Liverpool L9 2BR

Gateway to Europe

The last time I spoke to Eurostar on the phone, credit card in hand, I tried without success to book a through rail ticket to Amsterdam. It's not surprising Eurostar is not filling its trains if it is only interested in straight runs to Brussels, Lille and Paris.

The German Railways computer system however is very good, including cross-boundary journeys. It is after all, a straight-forward exercise using modern information technology. So why isn't it widespread here?

John Davis, 41 Fairmead Avenue, Harpenden, Herts AL5 5UD

Lost revenue

The railways carried many extra pasengers during the recent road fuel blockades but many of these "new" customers did not have tickets and train conductors were either unwilling or unable to get through the crowds to collect the fares.

P Sylvester, 208 Hornby Road, Backpool, Lancashire FY1 4HX

Rail millionaires

Like other RDS supporters, I am no fan of rail privatisation, but your article All change for rail millionaires wrongly states that the £25million made by the founding shareholders of Prism Rail could and should have gone into rail improvements.

Profits made from sales of rail companies result from the purchaser believing that the company has been built up and run in a way that will enable it to make profits in future.

A cynic might say that these profits arise from extracting maximum subsidies out of the franchise, but some must surely be due to the successful marketing of services since privatisation. BR was pretty hopeless at selling rail travel, while marketing has probably been the one area in which the private companies have excelled.

Your article says "there should be ways of stopping money being siphoned off from the system in future". The money paid for a company when it is sold was never in "the system" in the first place. It is money which would otherwise have been invested in other ways by the new owners.

There is other money which could be siphoned off, and that is the operating subsidies on socially necessary services. It is up to the Rail Regulator to ensure this money is not siphoned off in the form off excess profits and dividends, rather than being used to improve services.

Tony Farren, 7 Brow Crescent, Windermere, LA23 2EY. Jigbuster@themutual.net

Motorists' bleating

I am unsympathetic to the bleating of motorists and motoring organisations on how hard done by they are with "high" fuel costs, tax and insurance. They pay very little for this personally liberating but anti-social and environmentally distastrous activity.

Steven Harman, 47 Goodyers End Lane, Bedworth CV12 0HS

Cycle routes

I am pleased my letter about Sustrans in Railwatch 84 provoked a couple of responses. Mr Hardie seems to indicate RDS need not worry about reopening rail routes.

Several main lines are already full to capacity and requests by EWS and others for freight paths are being refused. Some routes which could have reopened but for the objections of cyclists would have been freight-generating branches. The freight from these sources continues to move by road.

I live in the Peak District and on a summer Sunday the car parks at Miller's Dale, Parsley Hey and other places are full of cars with empty cycle racks. Only a tiny proportion of cyclists using the converted rail routes in this area arrive on their own wheels.

Mr Grimshaw corrects me in saying that Sustrans only owns 400 miles of cycle track. I accept that but my estimate was based on Sustrans literature which refers to 5,000 miles, without making clear who owns it. Perhaps the ability of Sustrans to frustrate reopenings will be less than I feared.

Mr Grimshaw also refers to "to date only one route ... examined ... for freight ...". That may be true for the 400 miles Sustrans owns but others have been examined and frustrated. Incidentally, Mr Grimshaw says Rugby-Long Itchington was uneconomic partly due to the number of structures along the route. Among the items listed by EWS in a letter to me as making it uneconomic is "cost of provision of a replacement cycle-walkway for Sustrans".

RDS members will also remember the line to Wenford Bridge for china clay, which was thwarted by a local lobby led by an actor living a mile from the proposed railway and away from the route taken by the 40-tonne lorries currently in use.

At the time, Sustrans refused to support the application unless the rail promoter provided an alternative cycle track and English China Clays made a commitment to move all its clay by rail. The former stipulation priced the infrastructure out of contention and no commercial undertaking would agree to having its hands tied in the way suggested by the second one.

The traffic still moves by road starting about 5.30am, along village streets so narrow that lorries are inches from houses on both sides of the road.

I am sorry if I offend cyclists but if the choice is between a recreational cycle track or reopening a railway to avoid the misery mentioned above, there is no contest and I reiterate my request for information from local branches about other instances which I understand have occurred. Incidentally, I own and use a cycle.

George Boyle, RDS Freight Committee, 200 Buxton Road, Furness Vale, Stockport SK23 7PX furnessvale@aol.com

Rail priority

John Grimshaw of Sustrans did not address the question whether Sustrans considers there is a requirement for an alternative path to be provided when land in its possession is taken back into rail use.

As more and more former rail lines are converted to cycle tracks, conflict is bound to arise. Worthy as the aims of Sustrans are, I would not like to see a rail reopening scheme come to grief as a result of a wrangle over an alternative cycle track.

Mrs Janet Cuff, 33 Tatton Road North, Stockport SK4 4QX Janet.Cuff@care4free.net

Benevolent Sustrans?

Most people think mainly of Sustrans as a benevolent and helpful organisation dedicated to creating fresh routes for cycling and walking along disused railway tracks. In Railwatch 85 Sustrans director Mr Grimshaw makes a good case for them doing this while keeping such routes in trust for possible future rail reopenings, and until fairly recently I myself gave them regular financial support in that belief.

I have to say I have found that the reality can be different. Sustrans has another face, that of an unscrupulous poacher of existing footpaths, not of course to create new routes but to rob walkers of already-created paths by turning them into what are euphemistically called "shared use" routes for cyclists and walkers. On Sustrans's own figures, 300 miles or more of former footpaths will have been appropriated, widened or otherwise "improved" in order to drive through the so-called National Cycling Network.

Jack Wilson, 12 Kingsley Road, Timperley, Altrincham WA15 6RA

Double yellow

I believe the front page headline "Double amber signal at last" in Railwatch 85 should have read: "Double yellow signal at last".

Robin Gibson, 14 Bishops Way, Buckden, St Neots PE19 5TZ rhgibson@waitrose.com

Wrong signals

I was horrified to see the headline on the front page of Railwatch 85 - "Double amber signal at last" - obviously penned by someone very much into travelling by road and with little knowledge of railways.

If you want railway people to take notice of what the society has to say the least you can do is use the correct terminology. Semaphore distant signals on the railways are yellow, and colour light aspects have always followed this lead by being known as yellow (whatever they may look like), thus single and double yellow aspects, not amber which is the colour normally associated with the proceed-as-fast-as-possible aspect of road traffic lights.

You may not need to know a lot about railways to support them, but at least the house magazine should appear to be written by people who know what they are talking about.

Headlines such as this don't fill me with great confidence.

John Haydon, 4 Gladridge Close, Earley, Reading RG6 7DL Courtney@gladridgecl.demon.co.uk

Stop road building

Would all RDS members please write to their MPs and remind them how damaging road building is.

D Kellard, 98 Oakridge Road, High Wycombe, Bucks HP11 2PL

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