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Railwatch 072 - July 1997

The Sidings

Eric Barbery

Eric Barbery has stood down after 17 years as secretary of the RDS Severnside Branch. Having reached the age of seventy, he feels it sensible to take things a little easier.

Eric has been a very loyal member of RDS and has also served at various times on the National Executive and three different specialist committees.

As a retired railwayman, he has a knowledge of the former British Rail Western Region second to none, and we hope that the society, and perhaps our associated Railway Development Trust, can benefit from his expertise in other ways in the future.

Under Eric's direction the Severnside branch has campaigned tenaciously for reopenings, and in recent years stations such as Melksham, Cam & Dursley and Yate have been restored to the network.

He also lobbied long and hard for the reopening of Ashchurch station between Cheltenham and Worcester, and it is a fitting tribute to his work that this station is at last due to reopen in June.

Main line to the future

The new semi-fast service planned for the Midland Main Line is seen as a key to boosting revenue. It will leave St Pancras every half-hour just after the present InterCity 125 train, East Midlands branch was told at its annual meeting in March. Customer services director Nick Brown - who has since been promoted to managing director of Midland Main Line - said MML is commissioning a fleet of new 100-mph two-car diesel units for this service. It will overcome the present problems with infrequent connections between intermediate stations on the MML. Various infrastructure improvements will be needed, including the long-awaited fast platforms at Bedford. A new East Midlands Parkway station is planned near Junction 24 of the M1 although local campaigners in Kegworth and Sutton Bonington may be disappointed that it will not be nearer their villages. Mr Brown stressed the importance of good marketing, especially to attract people who have never previously considered rail as a travel option.

Who wants a bus?

Great North Eastern Railway is planning to expand the number of road coaches feeding into their East Coast main line services. Grimsby will have four coach links from Doncaster, while Hull will have three. The coach operator is expected to be Stagecoach. GNER's aim is said to be to improve northbound connections. While this may be a sensible commercial decision for GNER and may increase custom on the East Coast main line, it begs this question. What is wrong with the Grimsby-Doncaster 158 Express hourly service which is augmented by other local trains? Should not Regional Railways North East be able to help GNER with its aims  - and vice versa? Are the rail operators talking to each other and if not, why not? And what about the Rail Regulator? Should not he have something to say about this? The provision of rail feeder buses and normal local buses from places like Louth is obviously sensible. But should one rail operator introduce road coaches to compete with another rail operator, especially when the buses are provided by a company which is already aggressively competing with the local rail service? This could have serious ramifications for rural and regional rail services and undermine their existence. And of course their demise would have an adverse knock-on effect on the East Coast main line itself. It seems that GNER may not have faith in the local rail operator to deliver a high quality service matching that provided on the main line. But of course providing buses also allows GNER to scoop 100% of the revenue. GNER is also looking at plans to build a parkway station two miles south of Doncaster station with the aim of "wooing people out of their cars". This however could be in conflict with the aim to redevelop Doncaster station as a bus-rail interchange by Railtrack and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive. The worry is that with two main line stations so close would GNER trains stop at both? Expansion is welcome but all parties need to talk to provide the best service for rail users.

Building blocks

Houses under construction on the trackbed of the Sidmouth line at Tipton St John. Because of the proximity of the River Otter, a future deviation around all the houses would be difficult.

Hopes of restoring a rail service to Sidmouth by reopening the line from Feniton have not been helped by house building at Tipton St John on the old trackbed. We have repeatedly warned how short-sighted it is to allow building on old rail lines. East Devon District Council has not responded to our concerns over the new housing at Tipton St John. In April houses were nearing completion with the result that an even longer deviation will have to be built, if ever a funding mechanism can be found to reopen the line. Similar "short-term gain, long-term loss" building can be seen in many parts of Britain. If a national rail authority existed, many of these vulnerable linear routes could be protected for future reopening.

Rails to Dartmoor

Trains will run every summer Sunday from Exeter to Okehampton (on the edge of Dartmoor), following funding from Devon County Council and other bodies which have also provided funds to improve the sparse bus network in the Okehampton, Launceston and Hatherleigh area. These improved buses could be a key factor in providing the conditions for the Sunday service, at some stage in the future, to be augmented by a Saturday service and possibly eventually a weekday service. The Sunday rail service (six trains a day) has already been integrated into the Dartmoor Sunday Bus network. A special rover ticket covers the bus network and the Plymouth-Gunnislake rail line.

Devon is planning to reopen other stations, including the reinstatement of services from Bere Alston to Tavistock. A feasibility study has been done and all the structures are sound. A new station can be built on the south of Tavistock, near the dismantled Abbotsfield road bridge. If this happened, it would leave only the Meldon to Tavistock stretch to be reopened to complete the old London and South Western route to Plymouth which was built to double-track main line standards. There is little obstruction of the trackbed from Meldon to Tavistock. But within Tavistock, houses have been built on the line and West Devon Borough Council Offices are on the Tavistock North station site! Meldon viaduct has recently been restored and is now owned by the county council.

East-West link-up

A rail service operated jointly by Thames Trains and North London Railways could be the first step to achieving the RDS aim of constructing an East-West rail link between Oxford and Cambridge. Thames would provide 165 or 166 trains for an initial Oxford to Milton Keynes service. National Express which runs North London Railways is undertaking a feasibility study which will have to show the service could make a profit from the outset. The Franchise Director will not provide any cash help in setting up the service. But the wider scheme does meet the Franchise Director's requirement for an economic rate of return, according to phase two of the local government consortium's feasibility study circulating in May. For £172 million a high-specification railway for both passenger and freight from Swindon to Felixstowe and Norwich could be created by 2003. This surely must be the first sceme to be "actioned" by the National Rail Authority. At the moment it is in conflict east of Bedford with wrong-headed schemes to build roads on former rail trackbeds.

Conspiracy theory

Since Leading Edge Publishing went into liquidation, all remaining 1,121 copies of David Henshaw's Great Railway Conspiracy book have disappeared.

David and sales officer Tony Smale have written to the liquidators, enquired in the trade, and interrogated the book search computer - all without success.

Could they have been tipped off the back of a lorry on to the motorway, do you suppose? Please report any sightings to sales officer Tony Smale (01329 843356)

Rail Users Unite!

The annual gathering of rail users throughout Britain takes place this year in a new venue in London and looks at the prospects for railways in the new millennium.

The RDS National Conference of Rail Users is on 27 September at the Scientific Societies Lecture Theatre, New Burlington Place, W1.

David Bertram, chairman of the Central Transport Consultative Committee will speak from the consumer viewpoint, while Allan Dare of railway manufacturers Adtranz will look at the issue from the viewpoint of the railway industry. There will also be workshops on a range of issues of interest to rail users.

Ooh aah, Eurostar!

A party of RDS members led by Trevor Jones visited Bordeaux in April via Eurostar to Lille, and then TGV.

Armed with Eurodomino tickets, members of the party visited the resorts of Arcachon and St Jean-de-Luz with some venturing further afield to La Rochelle or Carcassonne.

The trip was organised through Deltaplan Ltd, Station House, Saxmundham, Suffolk IP17 1BW. Tel: 01728 603199.

Peter Cannon of Deltaplan will also be pleased to provide the full range of travel agency services for individuals.

Rail and bus

West Anglia Great Northern and Stagecoach Cambus are co-operating to issue through rail-bus tickets.

Cash advance

The RDS lottery winners for February were as followes: Brian Hastings, Scunthorpe £77.80, Bernard Sheridan, Mexborough £48.62, Peter Clark, Ayr £29.18, N W Barlow, Cambridge £19.46, C Oley, Ormskirk £9.72, R E Grainger, Edenbridge £9.72.

March: Bill Reynolds, Bristol £75.60, Philip Bisatt, Swansea £47.25, J D Shemilt, Ashbourne £28.35, D H Stock, Lytham £18.90, C J Lindley, Sutton Coldfield £9.45, A Laffery, Glasgow £9.45.

April: N Bray, Gloucester £75.40, S G Kay, Edinburgh £47.12, Graham Larkbey, London N6 £28.28, Mrs V Humphreys, London NW3 £18.86, F H Russell, Solihull £9.42, Anthony Greenwood, Rickmansworth £9.42.

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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