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Railwatch 071 - April 1997

PLATFORM - Your letters

Car catastrophe

Great Western managing director Brian Scott is quoted in Railwatch as saying that privatisation would lead to a railway renaissance. He also hopes to empty the M4 of cars. He is obviously a victim of Mad Privatisation Disease.

Privatisation has brought chaos and anarchy to the nation's railway network - a racket in which the chief result has been to line private pockets with public money.

The only means of getting most idle car addicts out of their cars is the implementation of a cohesive, coherent and co-ordinated set of measures to force them out.

These measures might include not allowing driving before the age of 25 and after 65, a far tougher driving test, an automatic life ban on drivers responsible for "accidents", the abolition of parking on-street at business and leisure premises and in new housing estates, and the raising of petrol prices to £50 a gallon or over to re- flect the costs of the motor vehicle, which is the biggest human, economic and environmental catastrophe the world has known.

Given the stupidity, incompetence, irrationality and ignorance that characterises government policy-making in this country, such measures are unlikely to be forthcoming.

Henry Bull, 106 Oaktree Lane, Selly Oak, Birmingham B29 6HY

Cheap trains

Many of your readers talk about reopening lines. Many of these are desirable and economically realistic but under the present budget-cutting government they are simply not politically realistic in the short term.

Before we start considering why our rail network is too small (and it is), we should start asking why we are not using our present network to the full. I see railcards as crucial. When I travel on railways outside London, most passengers seem to be under 26, in family groups or are old age pensioners - that is, those with railcards.

For those of us not entitled to railcards, the cost of train travel is prohibitive.

In the South East, however, the immensely successful Network card entitles anybody to reductions. If this card was available nationally (and many European countries have equivalents), I am sure it would increase passenger volumes and in itself create more demand for reopenings by opening up rail travel to a group largely excluded from it.

Because it does not involve expensive civil engineering and is simply a change in ticketing policy, it has the potential to be an excellent short-term measure to increase rail usage while politicians procrastinate about rail reopenings.

I suggest RDS should do all it can to get politicians from all parties to pledge support for this simple aim in the lead-up to the next general election.

M Smith, 8 Bendysh Road, Watford, Herts WD2 2HY

Spend the money!

Railtrack, the privatised company responsible for railway track and stations, has underspent its budget by £330 million and has been reprimanded by the Rail Regulator.

The government-appointed Rail Regulator issued a statement instructing Railtrack to draw up new plans to invest more in renewing the railway infrastructure and to publish them next month.

British Rail demolished the old Victorian building at Wolverton station, in Milton Keynes, more than five years ago and then said that it could not afford to build a replacement.

Now the ticket office is a disused freight container with a hole cut in the side and there is no waiting room or toilet.

Railtrack's underspend is enough to rebuild Wolverton station more than 3000 times. It is ludicrous that Railtrack sits on this huge sum of money while passengers and staff at Wolverton have to make do with such poor facilities.

I raised the issue of Wolverton station with Railtrack's Property Director Bob Hill at Railtrack's AGM last year.

He admitted that the facilities at Wolverton station left a lot to be desired and said he would look into it.

Wolverton has a long and distinguished railway history. The people of Wolverton and the surrounding areas deserve something better.

Alan Francis, 6 Spencer St, New Bradwell, Milton Keynes, MK13 0DW

Email: ahfrancis@gn.apc.org

Grand design

RDS could work much more effectively with rail project promoters and other pressure groups to advance a grand design for railways in the new millenium.

In conjunction with the Road Traffic Reduction Bill, RDS should try to ensure that rail - as one of the environmentally less damaging modes - fills the gap as part of an overall sustainable transport policy.

It should aim to increase the rail share of transport by better use of the existing infrastructure but also by expanding the network with a new high-speed line from the Channel Tunnel fast link to Leicester, following the old Great Central route.

A grand design could also include piggyback for lorries and the re-introduction of motorail for cars.

New laws should be passed so that articulated lorry trailers would only be allowed into towns if they had arrived piggyback on rail.

Philip Gruber, 4 Woodlands, Barrowfield, Hove, East Sussex BN3 6TJ

Neglect on show

In the last issue of Railwatch you mentioned the possibility of new services from Swindon, South Wales or Cheltenham to Derby and Matlock.

I was horrified whilst holidaying in the Peak District this summer to see the lack of basic care to bridge abutments and masonry embankments around Matlock and Matlock Bath area. Because of penny pinching on weed control, saplings have sprung up in several places.

In the centre of Buxton a freight line passes through on a beautiful viaduct which is a centre point to this town. You can imagine my horror and disgust when I spotted a six-ft high tree growing on top of it.

If Railtrack continue with this foolish penny pinching, it won't be too long before services are withdrawn to Matlock because of major civil works costs.

Secondly I would like to compliment Peter Rayner on his article. RDS could improve the prospects for rail freight by publishing a list of companies and their products that use railways either for transport of raw materials or finished products. "Green" people like myself could then purchase these items, thus expanding the use of rail while their competitors using road haulage would see this upturn and hopefully switch to rail also.

Bolstering rural lines by increased freight would lead to retention of passenger services on lines such as Carlisle to Settle, Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig, Kyle and the Far North.

I will close on this note. In Scottish Borders area, we (thanks to Mr Marples and Dr Beeching) do not have a single station to our name.

This is quite frightening when some people have to travel 50 odd miles by road to get the train in a neighbouring area, for instance, at Edinburgh, Berwick or Carlisle.

Fight for and use the services you have otherwise you may also be in a situation similar to us in the Scottish Borders.

Tom Thorburn, Windsor, Todlaw Road, Duns, Berwickshire TDII 3EW

Eurostar handicap

You mentioned hostile road layouts in the last issue of Railwatch. The new Ashford International station in Kent is a classic case.

It may be fine for Eurostar clients but involves a longer walk, and unnecessarily longer walk, for ordinary folk willing to try travelling by train.

R E Norton, 5 Chequers Park, Wye,Ashford, Kent TN25 5BA

Double standards

Why is it that we accept the double standards of the media?

This year, rail fare rises were labelled an "outrage" by uninformed commentators, at 2.7% or less. Paradoxically, even fare reductions of 8% on the Cotswold line were condemned by the "man in the street" interviewd on TV because they didn't also apply to his route.

Meanwhile the increases in fuel tax and road fund licence of around 7% went by with just subdued mumbles?

Oil companies have regularly put up prices by 1p a litre - nearly 2% - overnight without comment.

While rail is becoming cheaper relative to road transport, the public believe the opposite is happening.

Hopefully the privatised rail companies will invest in spokesmen better at handling the media!

Julian Hayward, Bracknell, Berks.

email: julian@ratbag.demon.co.uk

158 track

Although Laurie Holland says running 90mph trains on a 125 mph railway, it does happen.

Class 158 Express units already use the southern half of the East Coast main line between Peterborough and Grantham.

It seems to me that once again the management are taking a negative approach. Anything can be achieved by trying a little bit harder, and taking a more positive approach.

Jack Butcher, 31 Senwick Drive, Wellingborough, Northants

NNB 1RX

Direct talk

I beg to differ with Laurie Holland's letter in the last Railwatch concerning through trains from Cleethorpes to London King's Cross.

As a regular traveller from Grimsby to London, I would love not to have the inconvenience of changing trains.

There's no fun in having a prolonged wait at Doncaster, even if the service you're waiting for can reach high speeds. This is especially true for the passenger with heavy luggage to carry.

A direct service to London, properly marketed, would attract customers. And I'd have thought one thing a newly privatised company would be good at would be promotion!

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

Direct trains

Laurie Holland says that it was the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising who decided not to reinstate the direct Cleethorpes service. But it is Great North Eastern Railway which is throwing money at the wall by running a bus service from Lincoln Central to Newark Northgate when a shuttle between the two Newark stations would be more sensible. On Saturdays, the GNER bus does not run, leaving passengers at Northgate stranded for up to an hour.

When there was a direct train, potential passengers were deterred from using it by increasing obstructions such as advance tickets. But when it was first introduced, the train was well used.

Thomas E Rookes, 77 Ruskin Avenue, St Giles, Lincoln

LN2 4DE

Fire danger

I am not covinced by the arguments that there is little danger from fire on trains. I can remember a very serious fire on an InterCity sleeper service out of Penzance about 20 years ago, when the inability to get out of a burning train was a key factor.

Only one person died on the entire rail network last year (1995) - and that was caused by a fire on a train.

Fire is not the only reason why people might wish to make an unauthorised exit from a train. Train operators may well condemn people who take the situation into their own hands and walk down the tracks from a stranded train.

However, they have often left commuters stranded for two hours or more without any attempt to rescue them or provide information. On a journey timed to take 20 minutes this is totally unacceptable. These trains often have as many people standing as sitting, and I have witnessed incidents of fainting, panic attacks and asthma attacks from people stranded in such circumstances. Hence, I advocate that clear emergency exit procedures must always be available from every train coach.

Dennis Fancett, 6 Church Avenue, Sidcup, Kent DA14 6BQ

Fancettd@carec1.agw.bt.co.uk.

Fire risks

In the Eurotunnel Shuttle fire, lorry drivers were trapped in a locked compartment.

Their desperate prayers for external rescue were answered only just in time. Slam doors have the advantages not only of easy exit but also access to ventilation.

Fumes, not burns, are the really quick killers, although there is a general fear of fire.

We should not forget that on the day of the Eurotunnel fire, in which thankfully no lorrydrivers died, there was a pile up of lorries on the M6 in which sadly one driver was killed.

The motorway crash was covered by the BBC as an appendage to a general item on the weather, whereas the Eurotunnel fire dominated all news bulletins both on radio and television.

Three inquiries are being held into the train incident but none into the motorway crash. Eurostar services were shutdown pending a safety audit but no thought was given to closing the motorway. It was quickly reopened for crashes to occur as normal.

Ten people are killed on average every day on the roads - without prompting official inquiries, safety audits, media attention or calls for shut downs.

Maurice Knights, 47 East Cliff Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

TN4 9AG

Airport link

I hope rail users will press for the reopening of Aldergrove station on the Londonderry-Belfast line to serve the airport, the main entry and exit point to Northern Ireland.

At present, except for a half hourly bus to Belfast, there is no public transport link from this airport to any part of the province. The link between the airport and railway station could be provided by bus. A similar rail-air link has been provided at Luton for many years.

J M Robinson, 26 Sherborne Gardens, London NW9 9TE

Airport link 2

A direct rail route from Heathrow airport could be provided via the West London Line from Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction.

With a new low-level interchange station at Willesden a whole range of new travel possibilities coud be opened up, for example Heathrow and Ealing Broadway to Gatwick, Watford to Gatwick, Clapham Junction and Kensington Olympia to Heathrow, Watford and Harrow to Heathrow (changing at Willesden), and so on.

Martin Smith, 57 Bath Street, Abingdon, Oxon OXl4 IEA.

Freight hopes

Now that EWSR has taken over Railfreight, may I wish them luck, hoping it won't be too long before we see Railfreight back in the first division.

J Spinks, 17 Glenbank Close, Walton, Liverpool L9 23

Negative? No!

There were some negative comments in the last Railwatch about Liberal Democrats and their support for rail.

In Cambridgeshire at least - my party is doing all it possibly can to support rail projects.

The county council has appointed a very effective rail projects officer, we are actively working on projects which will see new stations to serve our major hospital on the main line out of the city, a new station near Peterborough, improved facilities at a number of rural stations, joint working in getting a new and an enhanced car park for Waterbeach station.

We are committed to rail and will, with the resources available, seek to do what we can to provide alternative attractive transport modes.

Cllr Geoff Heathcock, Liberal Democrat transport spokesman for Cambridgeshire, 52 Queen Edith's Way, Cambridge CB1 4PW

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