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Railwatch 074 - December 1997

PLATFORM - Your letters

So much to do

There are many examples of where small-scale improvements to the railway can give major advantages and the Coastway service is one of them. Just in my lifetime, the population of Worthing has grown from 40,000 to 100,000. In the past there was a semi-fast service to Ashford, bypassing Eastbourne. This could be reinstated if the Polegate triangle was put back in.

In another direction, if I want to travel to Uckfield, I have to go via East Croydon and the Oxted line. But if the seven-mile railway from Lewes to Uckfield was rebuilt, the journey would be easy and direct.

What about the roundabout journey the rail traveller has to make from Dumfries to Stranraer (via Kilmarnock!). The direct route via Newton Stewart could and should be reopened.

Improvements have taken place. There is now a regular semi-fast service from Brighton to King's Cross, St Albans, Luton and Bedford but there is still no train link to Dunstable as there should be.

There are also fast trains from Worthing to Bath, Bristol and Cardiff. By comparison with some areas, we are very lucky.

Hawick in Scotland was on a main line until the then BR chairman Richard Marsh agreed to close the Waverley route. Now Hawick has a serious road traffic problem and would-be rail travellers have to venture 40 miles by road to Carlisle. People living in the Pennine town of Alston have also lost their railway and have to travel 30 miles to Carlisle for a train. Alston may have a population of only 3,000, but does that mean it does not deserve a rail service?

In Lancashire, Southport with a population of 80,000 was well served by rail with 12 stations. Now it has only three. Give people a chance though and they will gladly travel by train.

John Snewin, 26 Marshall Avenue, Worthing BN14 0ES

Electrify now

Where is Railtrack's commitment to long-term investment? As far as I am aware, Railtrack has no plans to fill any of the existing gaps in the electrified network - Manchester-Preston-Blackpool, Manchester-Leeds-York, Crewe-Chester-Holyhead, Bedford to Leicester and Sheffield, Norwich to Ely and Peterborough, Paddington-Reading, Basingstoke-Salisbury.

Not even the isolated sections of the former Network SoutEast area at Gospel Oak-Barking, Marks Tey-Sudbury, Ashford-Hastings, Oxted-Uckfield, all of which are using ancient rolling stock. The Sudbury branch in Suffolk has had to revert to old "heritage" diesels because of leasing problems with Anglia Railways.

Surely progressive electrification of theses lines should be a priority investment allowing more efficient and quieter trains to continue on to the existing electrified system.

With the vast amounts of taxpayers' money going into Railtrack's coffers via the train operating companies, I would hope that RDS will be pushing for more electrification as part of any long-term investment.

Keith Mash, 13 St Andrews House, The Stowe, Harlow, Essex CM20 3BS

Options for change

Both the current issue of Railwatch (No 73), and the last issue of RAIL magazine highlighted the disintegrated nature of Britain's passenger rail services.

This is seen not only in non-connections at what ought to be major interchange stations, but also in a bewildering variety of "special ticket offers" which are however only valid under certain circumstances, which of course are different for each train operating company.

Bob Stephens's commment on page 15 of Railwatch puts the situation very well. On the other hand, Britain's rail freight business is booming.

Surely this speaks volumes about having a single united business able to face the real competition of road transport? I continue to live in hope of all the TOCs being transferred back into one company able to apply national ticket offers and a proper nationally integrated timetable.

However, I'm not holding my breath.

David Burbridge, Flat 5, 7 Hartington Street Derby DE23 8EB (dave@Burbridge@aeat.co.uk)

Woolwich Crossing

The Railwatch July 1997 article "So Much To Do" reports one of the advantages of the proposed Woolwich Rail Tunnel as providing rail links to Channel Tunnel services at Ebbsfleet. Assuming the Channel Tunnel Rail Link international station at Stratford also goes ahead, it is most unlikely passengers on the north side of the river would travel to Ebbsfleet for international services, as it would be far easier for such passengers to travel via Stratford.

However, the proposed Woolwich Rail Tunnel is a much needed piece of infrastructure. Planners currently see this tunnel in terms of a local link only (Stratford to Abbey Wood) but it has a far greater significance than this in terms of supporting radial journeys through the London suburbs. It will extend the North London Line south of the river at its Eastern end (it already penetrates south of the Thames in the West) and could link up with a new South London route between Woolwich and Richmond along existing track via Lewisham, Peckham and Clapham Junction). The real problem with the tunnel is that it is facing the wrong way to provide a single circular route but northern and southern orbital routes connected at each end would provide an extremely strategic benefit which should not be left unconsidered.

Plans to have the Woolwich tunnel as just single track are equivalent in road terms to having just one lane through the Dartford Crossing - a lunacy that must be resisted at all costs.

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

Vehicle vandals

Bravo RDS South Wales for sending tourist attractions postcards to try to persuade them to show public transport access in their publicity material.

Having sent dozens of such letters as an individual, plus a few as a user group activist, perhaps I can offer further suggestions to persuade people to mend their ways.

The production of leaflets omitting public transport information surely contravenes county councils' sustainable tourism and environmental protection policies.

Enterprises supposedly caring for our heritage can have no credibility if they remain unaware of the horrendous damage that unrestrained car travel inflicts on the landscape, towns and villages - and people.

People who can't be bothered to protect the countryside from cars should be dubbed vehicle vandals.

Giles Angell, 11 Franchise Street, Kidderminster DY11 6RA

Double trouble

On journeys to Malton, Huddersfield and Garforth I found on1y singles and day returns to be available. Buying singles means two bookings to produce the same revenue and hardly makes convenience for the user.

Joe Barr, 22 Spring Grove, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 2HS.

Heathrow lines

I am not too worried that the new 332 airport trains can't travel on the rest of the network as I very much hope they will be very busy on the Heathrow link. However I am very concerned regarding the remarks about access through the Heathrow Express tunnel by for example North London Lines, 166s and others. Railwatch has of course covered this subject and I seem to remember reading for example that local councils forced the inclusion of better junctions to allow better access for other train operators. I therefore believe that this letter (in its presentation in print at least) is misleading. If it is not misleading then we all have rather a lot of egg on our faces!

On the back page, Rough ride for rail reports remarks regarding Bedford Council wanting a road on the old trackbed and thus holding up the East-West rail link on the Oxford-Cambridge axis. With your remarks regarding Railtrack having allocated some money I find the councils' position very strange. If this was Luton, just down the road, with its large car plant I perhaps could see a reason for such a position. I am very pleased to read that some "educational" material has been handed over to the council.

Philip Godfrey, 36 Lovelace Road West Dulwich London SE21 BJX

Mind the doors

Initial reports after the Southall crash spoke of problems caused by locked doors. In the later sanitised official accounts of the crash, this issue seems to have been quietly deleted.

In another incident when door locks failed, 15 Eurostar passengers who wanted to alight at Ashford had an involuntary ride to Waterloo.

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

Principal aim

If a Welsh passenger transport authority is established, it should address the lack of north-south rail links in the principality.

Rail journeys between north and South Wales are extremely difficult and circuitous. With a Welsh Assembly expected in Cardiff by the year 2000, perhaps there will be political action.

One solution could be to rebuild the line from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth, not necessarily on the old route, and upgrade the Cambrian Coast line. A new link across the Dovey estuary, obviating the need to reverse at Dovey Junction, would be useful.

A new line from Criccieth or Portmadog to Bangor, via Caernarfon, would complete the north-south link.

Do other members have better solutions?

Nick Lewis, 36 Common Road, Stotfold, Hitchin, Herts SG5 4DB.

What about comfort?

I agree with James Towler (Railwatch 73) that class 158 Express trains are too cramped and noisy for extended journeys but the use of diesel multiple units is increasing.

Grimsby for instance is a typical station that has become "unit only". It does not matter if you are only going to Barton-on-Humber or connecting with the main line at Doncaster or Newark but a journey to Manchester or the Midlands would be more enjoyable on a "proper" train with a locomotive and carriages.

I find it strange that road coaches have become more comfortable over the years while rail leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps the answer is to ask passengers what they want!

Tim Mickleburgh, 33 Littlefield Lane, Grimsby, Lincs DN31 2AZ

Direct action

If only Railtrack was given the go-ahead to reinstate the missing link between Hadfield and Penistone, we could see Freightliner trains from Liverpool Garston using the Woodhead route to get to the fast-expanding port of Felixstowe in East Anglia instead of running around London as they do today.

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

Nice little earner

Severa1 months ago I came across overcharging for through tickets purchased from the machines at former Network SouthEast stations to London Underground zone 1. Thinking this was a mistake, I engaged in lengthy correspondence with my loca1 company Thames Trains and loca1 trading standards department over fares from Acton Main Line. In the end, Thames Trains said the fares could not be changed due to the way the computers were programmed, but did admit that overchanging was taking place.

Ealing Council Trading Standards department said Thames Trains had agreed to put stickers on the machines to at least warn passengers. We are still waiting for these to appear!

I am glad to see that Which? magazine is now taking the matter up with the Rail Regulator.

The prob1em is: If you buy a through single ticket from these machines (and also the ticket office to London Underground zone 1 you are often changed more than the extra £1.20 for London Underground Zone 1. Therefore it is often cheaper to buy a single to the London terminal and then buy a s1ngle ticket for £1.20 from London Underground. However this is often very inconvenient and time-consuming because of lenghthy queues at these busy ticket offices.

After my problems with Thames Trains, I became suspicious and checked other lines run by other companies. I discovered overcharging was widespread. For short journeys in the London area from say Richmond to London Underground Zone 1 you are overcharged by 20p. For longer journeys such as Brighton to London Underground Zone 1 you are overcharged by 70p.

I am bringing this to your attention in the hope that someone, somewhere can do something to stop th1s racket before the computers are re-programmed for the fares revision in January 1998.

Mr N Perkins, Flat 1, 25-27 Cumberland Park London W3 6SY

Company greed

I picked up the October edition of your excellent magazine at an ecology rally and fully endorse the views about protecting the Network card. The increase in price is an abomination! I understand that some railway companies do not like it. Presumably this is because they are so greedy they do not like discounting fares by a third. If RDS can get the increase reversed, I will join like a shot.

Derek Selby, 8 Steamer Terrace, Chelmsford, Essex CM1 1QP

Confusion

I recently travelled from Dewsbury to Watford. I called the information desk at Leeds station (apparently Dewsbury doesn't have a phone) and was given fares of £54 standard day return, or £171 first class.

Phoning again to check this information, I was given £44.30 day return and told that there was only first class from Crewe to Watford on the outgoing trip (which wasn't worth it) but first class from Watford to Manchester on the return for a £6 supplement. Where the hell did the figure of £171 come from? I opted for the supplement, only to find that no hot food was available (the microwave's knackered) and no cold drinks (ditto the fridge). The connecting door between carriages (right behind my seat) was jammed open so that I had the pleasure on listening to every joint in the track from Watford to Manchester with accompanying draught. Impressive, don't you think?

Mark Sykes (mark@msykesphoto.demon.co.uk)

Far out

I recently phoned the rail inquiry line and, instead of being answered by local staff at Tonbridge, I was dealt with by a pleasant person from Newcastle. She suggested going to Brighton via London! Luckily I was able to speak to Tonbridge the next day.

Mark Rees, 15 Westwood Road, Rusthall, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 8TX

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