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One of the burning questions for RDS members in the run-up to Railtrack privatisation has been whether to buy shares. Buying shares helps the Government to sell off railway assets and accelerate the onset of problems RDS has warned of. But buying shares could be a way to have some influence in the future railway.
Individual shareholders have virtually no power to influence companies but they do have access to information. And if they get together with other shareholders it is possible to exert some leverage.
So the annual general meeting of RDS on 4 May voted to set up a register of members who buy shares in Railtrack or a company such as Stagecoach which operates trains. If you have shares in a company with rail interests, please write to computer officer Trevor Jones at 67 Guildford Park Avenue, Guildford, Surrey GU2 5NH. He hopes to set up a database and enable members to discuss issues with fellow shareholders.
More than 130 members attended the meeting at the Queensway Suite, Mansfield. Mansfield is now accessible by rail so let's hope other organisers of events follow the RDS lead. We welcomed civic leaders from Mansfield and Ashfield District Councils. The guest speaker was David McIntosh who, as a manager of the then Regional Railways Central, played a key role in the Robin Hood line reopening.
He urged councty councils to support rail. "Counties that have spent money on improving railways," said Mr McIntosh, "are now in the virtuous majority. To the minority who have not yet put any money into improvements, we should say: 'Come on in. The water's lovely."
There were major benefits. For instance youth unemployment in the Bathgate area fell by 60% following rail reopening. The area around Birmingham's reopened Snow Hill station is being regenerated and there has been a reduction in road accidents.
The big challenge in Nottinghamshire was to reopen Kirkby Tunnel. Conventional wisdom had said that this would be too difficult. But, said Mr McIntosh, "on every scheme you need an idiot who will challenge conventional wisdom." When faced with statements like "It can't be done" it was necessary for someone to ask "Why not?" Funds were acquired from a variety of sources, thanks to ingenuity and political pressure. Privatisation had made it more expensive to build new stations and obtain extra rolling stock; but, in his new capacity as a consultant with Halcrow Transmark, he was actively engaged in work to tackle both problems.
In moving a vote of thanks, John Saunders paid tribute to the commitment of all the railway professionals, councillors and officers who had succeeded in linking Mansfield back into the passenger network.
RDS president Dr Michael Caton said RDS officers had had talks with the Rail Regulator, officials of the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising and with Labour's shadow transport secretary Clare Short. She was looking at the possibility of transferring the Treasury grant from the operating companies direct to Railtrack and how this might encourage expansion of services.
With the Assistant Director of OPRAF he had raised the issues of fare regulation, stock shortages and ticket routing. OPRAF had agreed to consider direct representations from users' organisations on Passenger Service Requirements. OPRAF has also agreed to consider rail reopenings after the initial feasibility studies. "In the run up to the General Election we should ask the politicians to spell out the vision of Britain's rail system of the future and tell us how they intend to finance the greatly expanded network we need," said Dr Caton.
Chairman Steve Wilkinson stressed "RDS is a team effort. There is no I in TEAM". He paid tribute to all members who had worked together over the year to put the case for rail. It was easy to be pessimistic when observing the "state of disorder in public transport and other services". £72 million had been paid out to lawyers, consultants and accountants that could have rejuvenated our rolling stock industry.
However, there were causes for optimism as well, and Mr Wilkinson cited the opening of Doncaster Railport. Corby railfreight depot had opened and the Mid Norfolk Railway had been successful in buying the Dereham line.
He gave particular thanks to those members responsible for increased media coverage.
The national officers, president and vice-presidents were all re-elected. There were 10 nominees for the 10 seats on the National Executive. Reg Snow and Shirley Dex did not stand for re-election and we welcome Nick Lewis and Gerard Duddridge in their place. Reg Snow was elected by acclamation as an Honorary Life Member in recognition of nine years as our first administrative officer from 1986.
The meeting also passed resolutions urging:
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