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Railwatch 068 - July 1996

PLATFORM - Your letters

Dog-ends return

South West Trains is reintroducing smoking to most of its trains. I discovered this when I got on a train at Waterloo and found I was treading on discarded dog-ends. The familiar stink and filth of smoking compartments of years gone by has returned. I was left wondering whether this was the stink and filth of the railway privatisation process being foisted on us.

Howard Thomas, 24 South Primrose Hill, Chelmsford CM1 2RG

Slow down

I cannot see much magic about trains going at 185mph. I cannot believe the time saved by travelling at such speeds is critical to people's wellbeing. Surely one of the joys of train travelling is being able to see the countryside, towns and villages through which one passes, instead of registering nothing but a confused blur of fleeting impressions. Not to mention the enormous capital investment, the special lines often duplicate existing routes because the trains are too fast to share with more mundane traffic. With more investment in track, rolling stock and staff, my requirements could be met within the existing framework, and incidentally, provide a lot of employment, both directly and indirectly.

Alan Dodson, 6 Newtown Road, Malvern, Worcs WR14 1NZ

Rolling cycleway

Boroughs along the Barking to Gospel Oak line want to make it into a "rolling cycleway". Although the rolling stock is old, it has a guards van and is handy for carrying cycles. Because the line is such a backwater, bikes can be carried at all times for free! Once you actually get on to a train, the passenger accommodation is not so bad as it's sometimes painted. It's venerable, yes, and there is sometimes a problem with the heating. But the cancellation level is something else, made worse by the fact that there are only a pitiful 30 trains a day in the timetable anyway. It should also be shown on Underground maps like the North London line. Leytonstone High Road is only half a mile from the Central line station at Leyton from where bikes can be carried to parts of Essex. The use of these two lines enables the cyclist to avoid some major roads, but the Barking and Gospel Oak line closes so early as to be a real nuisance.

Colin Newman, 14 The Bloomfields, Barking, Essex IG11 8PW. colin_newman@compuserve.com

Cyclists beware

Railwatch has a sympathetic approach towards cyclists. I wonder why. Cyclists are easily the worst type of road (which includes pavement) users. I trust that Railwatch will in future confine its activities to campaigning for rail users.

J P Randall, 116a Neville Road, Forest Gate, London E7 9QT

Editor's note: I am a law-abiding cyclist, motorist and rail traveller. 3,500 people are killed and 250,000 seriously injured every year by motor vehicles. Many more have their lives blighted by noise and pollution. Rarely is anyone killed by a bike. A bike and a train is the ideal transport for me.

Fine tuning

Increasing the proportion of four-round-a-table seating would help make rail more friendly for families and provide more behind-seat storage, safer for heavy luggage. It would also make it less claustrophobic for us short folk packed into bus-style seating. Attention could be given to other details which make travel in mark 3 coaches less attractive such as worn vestibule connections which let in freezing draughts and vestibule windows too stiff to close. Some senior conductors walk along without even trying to close doors and windows. Malfunctioning sliding doors which let draughts sweep into seating areas are also a problem. Much of this is due to poor maintenance and is not very expensive to rectify. The window problem could be cured by installing inside door handles now that we have central locking. It would save us from the scramble to open the window, before leaning out to open the door from the outside when alighting from the train.

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

Number eight

Graham Nalty in his article on Eurostar appears to have invented his population figures. Birmingham for instance is around one million, not the three million quoted. And why doesn't the UK's eighth largest city, Coventry, feature in his article or, indeed, on Eurostar's own maps and literature.

Dave Redley, Whitely, Birmen Road, Allesley, Coventry.

Graham Nalty writes: The population of the combined built-up area around New Street station is about 2.9 million. Eurostar's advantages of speed over 125 mph high-speed trains can only be realised if stops are less than one per 100 miles or so. Only regional centres of over one million can generate enough business for a regular Eurostar service.

Financial fraud

In the past, British Rail was involved in fraud when it closed lines. Most of the lines which closed either operated at a profit or could have done so. Railway management exaggerated a line's financial problems and diverted revenue away. Now it looks as if the grants which were given to sustain rural rail lines are being diverted to main line and big city projects.

E H Longland, 20a Rous Road, Buckhurst Hill, Essex

Antagonising checks

I can understand the concern about loss of revenue when tickets are not inspected. Yet there is a danger that matters are taken to the opposite extreme, with over-zealous guards acting as a deterrent to rail travel. Once sitting on a train, it is annoying to be asked to show your ticket as if you were a naughty schoolboy. A change of guard means the process can be repeated. Does a car driver get this hassle? If you show your ticket at a station barrier, do you need to show it again? By all means employ staff to plug income shortfalls, but do not antagonise law-abiding passengers such as myself.

Tim Mickleburgh, 101 Scartho Road, Grimsby, DN33 2AE

Fare losses

Northolt Park station has a booking office open only until 11am so after that many people travel "free" as there are no fare collection arrangements at Marylebone. On one train a conductor made no effort to collect any fares. He joined a booking clerk in the first class section! On my last trip, a two-window ticket office had been installed at Marylebone so maybe someone is waking up to lost revenue at last. By contrast, when I travelled around the Pennines, Tyne Valley, Settle-Carlisle, Cumbrian Coast and Darlington-Bishop Auckland a conductor has always been present and generally efficient.

M C Blanch, 31 Sandringham Crescent, Harrow HA2 9BW

Link needed

There is a great need for a link between the Midland and West Coast main lines south of Leicester. British Rail should have preserved the freight line between Market Harborough and Northampton. It was folly for BR to decide it had no further use for this vital rail link. If it was in situ now, it would be a godsend to Railfreight Distribution.

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

Dicing with death

My family has travelled to Scotland by Motorail for several years. We have always been impressed by the quality of service and felt the fares were money well-spent. Last year of course Motorail services were withdrawn. I sent several letters to OPRAF, the Minister of Transport and my local MP who finally assured me that Motorail had been saved. We made some enquiries regarding the possibility of travelling by rail and hiring a car for holiday use in Scotland. We came to the conclusion it would not really be successful. Having a car, it made little sense to leave it at home and pay for the use of another one. However, perhaps the biggest problem was how to pack and carry everything we are used to taking on holiday. As we normally fill the car, it would be very difficult to pack everything into portable luggage. Some fairly significant items would have to be left at home. Then all of this luggage would have to be loaded on and off a taxi to the station, and subsequently on and off the train and into the hired vehicle. Following careful consideration, we reluctantly drove all the way. It was a stressful way to start a holiday. Eleven hours travelling, during which I felt we were dicing with death on more than one occasion. We are certainly hoping for a Motorail revival or perhaps a Shuttle would be a winner?

John Deaves, 19 Elmwood Crescent, Luton, Bedfordshire LU2 7HX

Safety illusion

Supporters of railways should learn from the national hysteria over fears of a link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy and the human illness Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Although 3,500 people die on the roads every year there is disproportionate media concern every time there is a railway accident. After privatisation, I fear there will be a spate of accidents brought about by a culture of punctuality at any cost similar to the political preoccupation with cheap food. The accidents will lead to people like the Consumers' Association recommending avoidance of rail travel and beef until both are shown to be completely safe. The result will be "slaughtering" of unsafe lines so rail users are left with a high-priced, ultra-safe but truncated network accessible only to the super rich.

Maurice Knights, 47 East Cliff Road, Tunbridge Wells, TN4 9AG

Test case

Recently my wife and I were travelling on a busy commuter line in a train which suffered a minor mishap which was eventually and expertly rectified by coupling another train - after the customers had left both trains. Full marks for mechanical safety and efficiency. But those customers were left on a freezing platform with no advice, until a booking clerk said taxis might be coming to the station entrance above. The taxis did not come and meanwhile two trains "stacked" behind came in - but left before anyone could get down to the platform. We went down in time to catch a third. Other travellers however were still in the booking hall awaiting advice and the booking clerk was using the telephone trying in vain to find out about train movements. This is not good enough. The clerk was not to blame but who was? This line is to be privatised soon and so is Railtrack. Will it result in more considerate handling of such situations or not? Such questions are crucial if rail travel is to be made more attractive.

Professor Alan Blyth, 9 St John's Road, Queen's Park, Chester

Stansted railhead

I agree there is a need to reopen the north west Essex link to the Midlands and North by using Stansted as a railhead but how about north east Essex? It could enjoy a similar link by extending the Peterborough-Ipswich service to Colchester. The route from Peterborough to Ipswich, Harwich and Colchester has been much neglected but, at one time, was carrying through services to many parts of the Midlands and North. Maybe Harwich has declined as a passenger port but meanwhile south east Suffolk and north east Essex have seen considerable growth in population and business activity. The potential is there but can the fragmented rail system respond?

J H Asquith, 24 Links Road, Romiley, Stockport, SK6 4HU

Easy way

I agree with RDS that a Braintree-Stansted rail link should be reinstated. Through trains could run from Witham giving people on the Great Eastern main line much easier access, not only to Stansted but to places such as Cambridge, Peterborough and Leicester. At present for me to reach Stansted by rail means a journey via London - 70 miles when it's about 20 miles by road! A lot of emphasis is placed on East-West road routes like the A14. Why not the same degree of urgency on rail routes? On another point, I have a letter from Transport Secretary Sir George Young which says that "for three years from January 1996, operators will not be able to increase key fares above the rate of inflation". Note the use of the word "key". It leaves the interpretation of its meaning to the train operators.

Roger A Smith, 67 The Street, Little Waltham, Chelmsford, Essex

Win people over

Membership of RDS seems rather stuck around the 3,000 mark. If it is to have any real influence in the rail debate, the prime objective should be to expand membership 10 times to 30,000. One reason you may not be appealing to many potential new members is the magazine's editorial attitude. It seems downbeat on rail modernisation. While the old BR had a poor public image and provided an expensive service, it was fair to lambast its owners, the Government. Now the ball game has changed. Privatisation is a fact of life. It could deliver a better service for the public and provide the missing funding to make the whole system work. Funding was the Achilles heel of the old system, bedevilled by political apathy. I urge the society to realign its sights, get upbeat about privatisation, talk to the operators, report their fears, hopes and shortfalls, and carry their flag. They are desperately trying to appeal to the public just like you are. People want to read about success, optimism and future plans. Even, may I say, sometimes give the politicians credit for being men of good will. Cut down on recriminations and negativism. There is a sea change in public attitude against the motor car while public transport is becoming politically correct. Represent this more fairly, get the innovators on your side and I project membership could head through the 30,000 to reach 300,000 one day.

John Turvill, Emmanuel House, 21 Earl Street, Cambridge CB1 1JR

Missed opportunity

Peter Rayner mentioned the A34 Newbury bypass in his article in the last Railwatch. I remember in the late 1950s or early 1960s - I cannot recall exactly when - BR put forward a proposal to establish a depot at Didcot where all lorries conveying traffic for Southampton Docks would deposit their loads for trans-shipment for onward transit by rail via the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway. If the scheme had gone ahead, the line now obliterated by the Newbury bypass would have survived. Quite a number of railway jobs would also have survived and the line would have taken road traffic off the A34 road. What road traffic remained could have easily been accommodated by the addition of a bridge (or underpass) to cross the A4 road in Newbury. From personal experience and observation, it is this road junction, currently a roundabout, which is the principal cause of congestion on the A34. Unfortunately the scheme never got off the ground. Long-distance lorry drivers refused to comply with this commendable proposal and insisted on loading at Southampton Docks. No doubt the Government's 'masters', the road transport lobby, also helped to ensure the scheme did not see the light of day. Although the idea of lorries being carried by rail was known, even then, in some European countries, the idea was absolutely taboo in this country. The loading gauge was cited as an insurmountable problem.

Martin Robinson, 34 Greatfield Road, Kidderminster DY11 6PH

Rail needs friends

It is worth recalling that some local authorities oppose rail improvements as a method of reducing car congestion. South Oxford district council voted (11 for and 3 abstentions) to build a road on the Didcot-Newbury-Twyford Down route. Two councillors who claim to be pro-rail voted FOR the road. The loss of the rail route will cause worse pollution in Winchester, Newbury and Oxford and result in freight trains taking an hour longer to travel between Southampton and Banbury compared to a lorry on the A34.

Lyndon Elias, 10 Sandringham Road, Didcot OX11 8TP

Missing link

I recently travelled on Eurostar as part of an international rail journey to Bern. I booked the complete journey from Cambridge but the through ticket did not cover the transfer between Paris Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. It means I had to buy French francs in England to cover the transfer and then had the hassle of buying a ticket in Paris. I thought this was poor and wrote to the "Manager" at Eurostar, Waterloo. I received an imbecile reply apologising for delays because of weather conditions.

Dr Henry Tribe, 198 Gilbert Road, Cambridge CB4 3PB

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