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Railwatch 087 - March 2001

Platform - your letters

Nothing in reserve

In the past month I have made too many rail journeys when I was subject to delays and frustrating inconveniences. Some of these were due to weather conditions and the effects of the fuel crisis on the availability of crews. But for many of the others there seemed to be a common background.

For all their advantages over roads, railways, like tramways, do have the drawback of inflexibility.

If a lorry breaks down, it can be overtaken; if a road is closed for any reason, the police can organise a diversion. Railways have traditionally compensated for this problem by generously supplying a wealth of loops, crossover points (to enable single-line working) and rich networks of track out of busy termini.

Over the years many of these have been taken up to reduce maintenance costs. Spare locomotives are kept to a minimum, and there is nothing for a rainy day.

One of the top priorities of both Railtrack and the operating companies has to be to enrich their facilities, so that they can cope with emergencies, and not drive travellers back on to the roads in sheer frustration.

P J Hitch, 30 Marlborough Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire BD18 3NXphitchs@netscapeonline.co.uk

Rail, the safe way

Why was there such a massive over-reaction following the Hatfield crash? Sadly there have been rail accidents before, and will be again. No single incident however seems to have brought so much subsequent chaos on the network.

Safety is important, and we all feel sorry for any victims. The fact remains though that rail is still the safest mode of travel. Indeed the only time I feel in danger when travelling by train is when confronted with some other passengers, those of the scarf-waving variety. On the roads it's another story. Some drivers should oviously not be let loose behind the wheel. Yet they are.

As a campaigning body, we must point out the double standards when it comes to looking at transport safety. Roads are more dangerous, but you wouldn't necessarily think so from looking at the national press. Many people are being put off rail travel in favour of going by road where twice as many people as were killed at Hatfield die every day.

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

Protect rail assets

I would like to draw members' attention to a serious logistical problem concerning the changing national rail scene in this country.

Previous governments sought to reduce the rail routes and to this end sanctioned the closure of even major links. This left the old trackbeds with no rails but much of the civil engineering infrastructure in place, for example, the bridges and embankments.

Fortunately many of these were purchased by the local authority for use as cross-country recreational trails suitable for cyclists and walkers. However this left the local authority with a major problem - how were they to find the funding to maintain those bridges and embankments? Certainly their recreational budgets were not designed to cope with this kind of expenditure.

Now comes a major problem. Today there is developing a need for these rail routes to be restored but until such time as firm plans to do this are in place whose responsibility is it to maintain the bridges and embankments for possible reuse - a reuse which, as far as the local authority is concerned, may never happen? You and I may well say that it will, but one can see the point of a local authority refusing to sanction such expenditure.

There is a prime example of this near here where the old Great Western main rail route south of Stratford crosses the River Avon on the steel girder bridge, known as Stannals Bridge. It is the property now of Warwickshire County Council and is in dire need of maintenance. If it is left, it will fail and be a total loss. Minimal regular maintenance now could keep it in a fit state for the line to be restored at a future date but the funds required are being denied. Should this be so?

I would very much appreciate an opinion on this thorny problem which, I am sure, must apply in many other places.

David Goodman, 12 Blue Cap Road, Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire CV37 6TG

The wrong direction

I started work on the railways in 1958 and, working at King's Cross and other stations on the former Great Northern main line, discovered that there were plans to run trains from Dunstable to St Pancras instead of to King's Cross via the branch line from Luton Bute Street to Luton Hoo and Welwyn Garden City.

The branch line was closed but the correct link was never put in at Luton to allow passenger trains from Dunstable to run into St Pancras.

One of the great tragedies of Beeching was that this sort of improvement was not understood. It is a great pity that in 1966, the connection at Luton was put in "the wrong way" merely to retain a freight connection to the area.

In my view Luton-Dunstable is perhaps, after Mansfield, the worst Beeching decision that was made in an urban area. Once again for the umpteenth time, we hear (Railwatch 86) that in a local referendum, thousands of people in the Luton-Dunstable area have voted for a reopening of the former Great Northern rail link between the two towns. No one, apparently, wants a busway.

It is essential that the emphasis with this reopening is placed on it being first, an electric Dunstable-Luton-St Pancras (Thameslink) service and second, a Luton-Leighton Buzzard-Northampton electric service instead of some sort of diesel unit branch line connection from Luton-Leighton Buzzard only. The problem for through trains from Dunstable to St Pancras is that at Luton the Midland main line track layout requires alteration south of the station to allow connection and through running. In addition signalling alterations to West Hampstead box are required as well. Alternatively following decline in the car industry at Luton the land between Luton, Luton Hoo and Harpenden should be examined to see whether the connection could be made further south.

Let us renew our efforts to get Dunstable back on the railway map by 2002, despite the tragedy, traumas and trouble in 2000.

David Wrottesley, 29 Twentywell Road, Bradway, Sheffield S17 4PU

Do the rest as well

I'm glad to see Chiltern Trains are now talking about reopening Princes Risborough-Thame-Oxford. I've been thinking along these lines for some time, notably in the context of the dangerous saturation tragically evident of the approaches to Paddington. Such a scheme could take all or most of the present Oxford-Worcester line traffic away from the crowded Great Western main line. If a new south-to-east curve was added near Cowley, it could also serve stations towards Didcot and Swindon (a rapidly growing part of the world).

As well as reversing the slimming down at Marylebone itself, they need to reinstate the passing loops once routine on the Great Western-Great Central main line to allow fast trains to Oxford and Birmingham to overtake outer suburban stoppers. Moreover, there needs to be better Tube interchange on this increasingly valuable route (Marylebone only has the Bakerloo Line). Adding interchange platforms for Chiltern Trains at West Hampstead with the Metropolitan and Jubilee lines would be an obvious move - especially as this is being proposed for enhanced interchange with Thameslink and the North London line.

Such improvements may seem expensive in the short term, but in Paris or Amsterdam they would have been done years ago.

Martin Cook MA, 54 Leathermarket Court, Leathermarket Street,

Bermondsey, London SE1 3HS mcolvencook@hotmail.com

An asset for Olney

We in the Bedfordshire Railway and Transport Association are only £300 short of raising the sum needed for Phase I of the pre-feasibility study into the engineering viability of reopening the rail link from Bedford to Olney and Northampton.

This study is needed to provide a firm and professional footing for the campaign and to continue the fight to protect the remaining trackbed from further development or obliteration.

The study is especially needed to examine the possible new route around the northern perimeter of Olney as the old route has been lost to housing.

We have called on local authorities to help protect the remaining route and space for realignment and have appealed to the public to help us raise the remaining £300. We are also seeking more volunteers to help and to join the association.

This rail route was deliberately run down prior to closure back in the early 1960s. Today the vast amount of east-west traffic along the A14, A45 and A428 demands that a rail alternative is provided for inter-regional and local traffic. Communities like Olney are a 10-mile drive to the nearest railway station. The provision of a railway and station at Olney would make a huge difference to people's mobility and transport options as well as bringing in more trade to local businesses.

Richard Pill, 24c St Michaels Road, Bedford MK4O 2LT Tel: 01234 712795

Cycle routes

As rail user, walker, cyclist, Railwatch reader and Sustrans supporter, I would expect as many former rail trackbeds as possible to be returned to railway use eventually. That is partly why I became a supporter of Sustrans. Anyone doubting Sustrans' commitment to promoting railways should remember the "Safe Routes to Stations" project.

Just as Sustrans once quite reasonably refused to give up a cycleway for a "museum" railway, so it would seem reasonable for it to surrender a mainly recreational cycleway to a utility railway.

In the two cases mentioned by Mr Boyle (Railwatch 86), Sustrans has at least performed a service by preserving the trackbeds. Had factories or houses been built on them, neither EWS nor English China Clays could have contemplated re-opening those railways at all. Sustrans thus deserves not criticism but some tangible reward for its initiative.

Neither would it be reasonable to expect EWS, ECC or Sustrans to pay for realigning the cycleways were those two freight railways to re-open. Funding for this should rightfully come from the highway budget because the demand for cycleways results mainly from the failure of road safety policy. Also, the long-term savings in road repair bills for damage by lorries would probably exceed the cost of re-routing the cycleways.

Until recently Sustrans and the Cyclists' Touring Club had a serious difference but eventually agreed a joint policy. Please get together likewise, RDS and Sustrans, and sort out a suitable joint policy on this and other matters of mutual interest (for example, the carriage of cycles on trains).

RDS and Sustrans have similar origins: each results from serious shortcomings in national transport policy. The big picture should always be borne in mind, for there are those who would exploit divisions between the branches of the campaign for sustainable transport.

Keith Richmond, c/o 27 Glebelands, Pulborough, West Sussex RH2O 2BZ

Queuing for tickets

I have to admit surprise that you should support the venture which converted Cooden Beach station into a shop - depicted on Page 11 of Railwatch 86. I cannot imagine anything more likely to put people off travelling by train than to have to wait while trying to buy a train ticket behind someone buying groceries, particularly when the train one wants to catch may be fast approaching.

It is bad enough at my station, Colchester, where there are four positions, to be fair always fully manned at peak times, when somebody is making enquiries because they do not have a dedicated enquiry position like they do, to their eternal credit, at Ipswich.

I also disagree with your attitude towards seeking information. This should be available from staff at the ticket office. Many people just do not understand how to use modern technology.

T W Wiles, Carisbrooke, Friars Road, Hadleigh, Ipswich IP7 6DF

Palace station

I am angry about the appalling state of the Hampton Court station building and Railtrack's plans to put luxury houses on the site and possibly move the station.

It's bad enough we have to put up with the station in its present semi-derelict state but development in the manner Railtrack envisage will both harm the service on the branch line from Surbiton, which I use frequently, and more importantly will spoil a pretty stretch of the riverside by building luxury housing on open land immediately opposite Hampton Court Palace.

Historic Royal Palaces, which runs Hampton Court Palace, has previously been totally opposed to Railtrack developing the station site, because of the harm it would do to the setting of Hampton Court Palace.

Now it seems Historic Royal Palaces is in favour of the Railtrack scheme. More information at: http://www.hampton-online.co.uk/tol/Messenger/Hill.html

Alan Bridge alan_bridge@hotmail.com

Rush-hour stations

In the current climate of encouraging people in London to use the railways, there can be little or no excuse for Chiltern Railways' refusal to operate more regular rail services to call at Sudbury Hill (Harrow) and Sudbury & Harrow Road stations on the Marylebone-Birmingham via High Wycombe line.

These appear to be the only two national rail stations in London to have a peak hour only service following the re-introduction of regular services to Cambridge Heath and London Fields on WAGN railway. The only other peak hour only station is the Underground's Shoreditch on the East London Line.

While accepting it may be difficult to stop more services in peak hours, off-peak there can be no excuse for not stopping services in Sudbury when trains are calling regularly at nearby Northolt Park and Wembley Stadium stations.

In addition Sudbury Hill (Harrow) should appear on rail and Tube maps as an interchange station with the nearby Piccadilly line station just 200 yards away. There should be signs on both the Tube and railway stations pointing out this interchange.

The Chiltern Metro rail service could run on existing rails from London Marylebone (interchange with Bakerloo line), calling at West Hampstead (new Tube-National Railway interchange), Wembley Stadium, Sudbury & Harrow Road, Sudbury Hill Harrow (interchange with Piccadilly line), Northolt Park, South Ruislip (interchange with Central line), West Ruislip (interchange with Central line).

Railwatch readers can help the campaign by:

1 Responding to the poll at www.saveourrailways/chiltern

2 Emailing your support to saveourrailways@hotmail.com

3 Forwarding this information to other people

4 Writing to Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London (Transport Strategy Consultation), Greater London Authority, FREEPOST 5470, Romney House, 43 Marsham Street, London SW1P 3PY. Email: mayor@london.gov.uk Website: www.london.gov.uk

Ifor Davies, 77 Sudbury Court Drive, Harrow, Middx HA1 3SS ifordavies@hotmail.com

Rail-air links

Four major continental airports are also main line railway stations: Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt, Geneva, and Zurich. Three are served direct from Luton by convenient air services.

Using Easyjet from Luton to Geneva, and transferring to express rail services, I travelled to Milan and Venice.

It took me less than nine hours to get to Milan and less than 12 to get to Venice - in comfort and without the stress and cost of going via major airports like Heathrow.

Many other journeys can be made in similar fashion. Express rail services also run from Schiphol airport to Berlin for instance.

George Atkinson, 3 Romeland, St Albans AL3 4EZ

Keep the trains

Three Midland Metro tram lines may be open in 2005. That will mean 77% of the tram mileage being on unused rail lines or on track bed that should never have had trains or stations removed.

Trams are replacing trains and causing further contraction of our rail network in the Centro region. It started with Beeching and continues with Metro. What a blunder!

Tim Weller, 28 Hunnington Crescent, Halesowen, West Midlands B63 3DJ timweller@igclick.net

Better by Bus?

In response to Mr T C Hughes' letter in Railwatch 86, I would like to offer a few comments for anyone who has doubts about the worthiness of the Penrith- Keswick railway as a candidate for reopening.

Mr Hughes is right in implying the railway and bus services will not serve exactly the same settlements.

The bus route does serve Threlkeld, but the railway would serve Newbiggin also. Because the bus goes through Threlkeld, and does not just stop on the bypass, five minutes are added to the journey, as in the direction from Penrith to Keswick, the bus has to cross the A66 twice, causing unnecessary delay.

Additionally, because the bus is limited by urban road characteristics in Penrith and Keswick, the 18-mile journey takes 40 minutes from Penrith - not fast enough to attract motorists out of their cars.

People do not like buses generally, the bus has no capacity to carry bikes, and progress is erratic, so the service is not used to the extent any train service would be. No more than six other passengers have been on the bus when I have used it.

Of course, there is an hourly service between Penrith and Workington. But that journey takes one hour and 37 minutes, an average speed of 28mph. But it is wrong to say that the train service will replace the bus.

The services will be able to co-exist because they will serve different places, run at different times, and because the A66 is so busy. Alternative capacity will be needed. People who do prefer buses to trains (Mr Hughes?) will use the buses, and people who prefer trains to buses (myself!) will use the trains.

Mr Hughes states the cost of reopening the railway would pay for a free bus service for 100 years. Perhaps.

But why then does he support the reopening of the Waverley line, and the Wensleydale line, when surely there too, the cost of reopening would pay for a bus service for 100 years?

The justification for reopening any railway is that it would provide a more reliable, comfortable, faster service for passengers, than any "enhanced" bus service, and would do more to solve pollution and congestion problems, instead of adding to them.

And let us not forget - trains carry bikes while 99 per cent of buses don't. Mr Hughes needs to realise that the real enemy to his beloved coach service is Cumbria County Council and its future plans for the A66.

A recent draft Local Transport Plan said: "Further improvement of the A66 from the M6 to West Cumbria is called for. Through the Lake District National Park further requirements are junction improvements and the creation of overtaking opportunities."

Cumbria County Council is quietly planning nothing less than a dual carriageway throughout, from Penrith to Workington, destroying further this beautiful landscape, allowing traffic levels to double, allowing traffic speeds to increase to 70mph legally (and realistically 80 or 90 mph), and increasing noise and pollution.

So I say to Mr Hughes and other sceptics: If there are enough journeys being made between Penrith and Keswick to justify a dual carriageway, then there are enough potential passengers to support both an hourly train service, and a half-hourly bus/coach service.

It is upgrading of the A66 that will reduce further use of the buses, as the journey time will become even less competitive. A dual carriageway will do far more environmental damage to the Lake District than a reinstated railway. I urge Mr Hughes to stop campaigning against the resurrection of the CKP, start supporting it, and join forces with all those against further upgrading of the A66. Write to Cumbria County Council, your MP, your local newspaper, talk to people, and echo the message of D Kellard (Railwatch 86): "remind them how damaging road building is."

T A Harling, Low Nook, Askham, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 2PG

Keswick trains

Mr Hughes is right to be concerned about the possible impact of a rival Keswick rail service on the current bus service (Railwatch 86).

However, I think the long-term effect of rebuilding the Keswick railway line will be to increase bus patronage as it will improve public transport opportunities and reduce the need to use a car. There is still a decent bus service between Kendal and Windermere, Barrow and Ulverston, or Ilkley and Leeds, despite the presence of a good train service.

When I lived in Cumbria as a child, the then closure of the Coniston, Lakeside and Keswick branches was offset by the promise of better bus services. The fact that Cockermouth civic trust had to fight for an adequate bus service seems to contradict this promise.

The real problem with the Lakes and Dales particularly in the summer, is the large number of holidaymakers and day-trippers - mainly families from Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire - who arrive by car.

This is a consequence of the closures mentioned above. What a terrible effect this has had in an environmentally sensitive area. Unfortunately, bus timetables tend to be local knowledge, and they are not really suitable for carrying children over long distances on bumpy roads.

Also, I am not personally prepared to wait at Carnforth station for badly timed connections with my two small children despite the fact they prefer train to car travel.

A radical solution is required and the only appropriate course of action is to bring back the trains. As well as rebuilding the Keswick link (all the way to Workington), the frequency of services on the existing lines needs to be dramatically increased, particularly on the Cumbrian Coast, Leeds to Morecambe, and Windermere branches, in the latter case this will involve re-doubling the track. Note that proposals to widen the A65, A66, and A590, have only been shelved and not cancelled.

Michael Lockley, 8 Green Close, Leeds michael.lockley@lexicon.co.uk

Road building

Transport Secretary John Prescott is quoted as saying that renationalising Railtrack would "probably" require compensation to shareholders. Surely, full compensation to passengers and franchisees for the inconvenience and financial loss caused by the post-Hatfield speed restrictions would have been enough to eat up Railtrack's pre-Hatfield share value? In which case all the compensation would have ended up with the passengers and franchisees.

This would also have started to compensate the rail industry for the unfair competition of the budget statement motor tax cuts, but that's another matter. One might also ask whether the Government's reluctance to put money into the pockets of Railtrack shareholders is behind the fact that road investment is currently proceeding at a much faster pace than rail improvements, negating the Government's original commitment to reducing traffic levels.

If the Government owned Railtrack it could pursue rail improvements and traffic reduction targets without putting money into any other pockets than its own (and ours).

Simon Norton, 6 Hertford Street, Cambridge CB4 3AG S.Norton@dpmms.cam.ac.uk

Cross Country folly

In view of Virgin Trains' intention to eliminate through trains between the South Coast and North-East England (Bournemouth-Southampton-Sheffield-Leeds-York-Newcastle), I think the service should be offered to another operator, be it partly via a different route, perhaps included in the proposed Wessex Rail franchise as the published map already includes Southampton-Salisbury-Bristol- Birmingham. Travellers have enjoyed through trains between Bournemouth and Newcastle for many years. Even when British Rail closed the Great Central route it recognised the need to continue the service which was then diverted via Birmingham.

D E Sparshatt, 30 Ham Lane, Gosport PO12 4AN despar@cwctv.net

Railtrack profits

Graham Larkbey, like me, opposes dividend payments by Railtrack. We both voted against the payment of a dividend at a Railtrack annual general meeting a few years ago.

But given that a dividend is approved anyway, what I do, to put my money where my mouth is, is to take it as a scrip dividend (i.e. extra shares) so that I don't get any cash and so that (I presume) Railtrack has that much extra to invest.

H Trevor Jones, 67 Guildford Park Avenue, Guildford, GU2 7NH htjones@raildev.fsnet.co.uk

Editor's note: Both Graham and I have donated our Railtrack dividend to RDS funds. I urge other members to do likewise.

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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