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Railwatch 073 - October 1997

Be positive about rail

I recently received a glossy information pack from a hotel on a greenfield site close to a new road four miles from the nearest railway station, inviting us to hold meetings and conferences there. In my reply I pointed out that, as the Railway Development Society, we normally use venues at, or close to, railway stations.

I have also been in contact with a company hoping to build more hotels near stations; and in our dialogue with Railtrack we have pressed them to encourage businesses to locate at stations or on adjacent railway land. We urge members to support such travel agents as Deltaplan at Saxmundham station in Suffolk, because that sort of enterprise helps put the railway at the centre of the community, not at its margins, and is good for railway business.

These are examples of being positive and practical about rail. That has to be a central plank in the RDS platform. Our organisation is not one that just stands on the sidelines and criticises; nor do we just sit in an ivory tower and philosophise.

Of course, we have to criticise where appropriate, and we have done so when, for example, staffing cuts led to problems of security, vandalism or loss of revenue. As your general secretary, I wrote to the relevant bodies protesting at the price increase and restrictions proposed for the Network Card in South East England. Our chairman was recently quoted in the Daily Mirror questioning the need for the chairman of the British Railways Board (which no longer operates trains or track) to be paid £271,000 a year plus car.

When we criticise, however, we must keep a sense of perspective, and we must endeavour to say something positive and constructive as well. If I am asked by a radio interviewer about fare increases, I obviously condemn these; but I also point out how it is often possible to obtain good bargains by booking in advance. I have explained to media people how my own local operator, Anglia, has boosted usage by 10% in the past year, partly through some good promotions aimed at the leisure market.

The fragmented structure imposed on our rail system does not make for good marketing of the train as a means of transport. It merely encourages each operating company to give its own particular trains the hard sell. There is, however, the Association of Train Operating Companies, which has the potential to market the whole concept of rail travel.

It recently produced a little leaflet advertising the All-Line Rover, which should be attractive for both foreign and domestic tourists and is on sale until the end of the year. In contrast, the Deutsche Bahn publishes a free 16-page booklet packed with information about rail travel for tourists in Germany.

We should like to see ATOC taking a higher profile in the future and hope to share constructive ideas with them, in addition to our discussions with the individual operators, Railtrack and anyone else, in the private or public sector, who is or should be interested in promoting the railway.

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