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Railwatch 074 - December 1997

Rail users Conference 1997 London

What use are Pacers?

Watchdog David Bertram had a confession to make when he addressed the rail users conference.

"I don't always use public transport," he admitted. "I drove to the station today rather than use the bus. Why? Because the bus takes three times longer than the car and still leaves me with a 10-minute walk to the station."

The chairman of the statutory Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee said he looked forward to when privatisation delivered all the promises that had been made for it. "We still have a long way to go. But I am an optimist. I do not subscribe to the theory that we shall see the death of rail by a thousand logos."

He highlighted one of the current problems - unsuitable trains. He said that passengers who had to travel in Pacers were getting a raw deal, particularly when used on rough track. He had heard of a class 150 "basic" Sprinter being used on a journey from Birmingham to Milford Haven and a Pacer travelling from Paddington to Penzance.

He also pointed out that while some new services had been provided, such as Rugby to Gatwick, he wanted to see through trains to Blackpool and Shrewsbury.

When questioned, he also revealed how far electrification had slipped from the rail agenda. "Manchester-Preston is the only route that is being looked at now," he said.

And he highlighted the problem that many young people never travel on trains these days. Out of a party of 325 schoolchildren who were taken for a day-out by rail, only three had travelled on a train before.

The rail companies are not promoting themselves properly. "What's the good of advertising at stations, when most people who drive do not go near them?"

Rail is now a growth business. Last year the number of people travelling by rail went up by 8%. But newcomers to rail travel are not impressed. "On one train to London, hundreds of passengers were amazed when they heard the conductor appeal for any train driver from any rail company on board who knew the Hertford loop to come forward," he said. "Whatever impression did that give?"

He predicted that the main issue for the Government in their review of transport was to provide a level playing field. Rail was 20 times safer than road and if similarly tough safety rules were applied to roads, they would be empty.

And fares were a problem. It was possible to travel 400 miles between London and Edinburgh for £20 but to travel the 200 miles from Leeds to Norwich, it cost £40. Often the high costs were because more than one operator was involved. "We need the Government to kickstart the switch back to rail," he said.

Mr Bertram had a word of advice for RDS and other campaigning groups. "Let's be realistic. Let's contribute to the debate and not be on the sidelines hissing and booing."

Need for strategy

Allan Dare from train makers Adtranz warned that the rail industry was not replacing rolling stock at a steady rate and the franchising process had created new problems of short-term peak orders.

It can take four years to obtain a new train and then a company with a seven-year franchise might have only three years to operate it. An overall strategic policy was lacking and on some commuter routes, it was difficult to make a strictly financial case for having new trains.

He accused the last Government of "comprehensively sabotaging" the London Underground.

Later delegates divided into three workshop sessions to discuss the challenges facing transport in London, the work of rural rail partnerships and how rail users can best co-operate with train operating companies.

The session leaders were Cynthia Hay of Capital Transport, Gavin MacPherson of the Penistone Line Partnership and Mike Bagshaw of Chiltern Trains.

Regulator's work

John Rhodes of the Office of the Rail Regulator gave a very interesting talk on the issues which he and his colleagues were currently tackling, and answered a wide range of questions. ORR also had a stand at the conference.

Rail users directory

The conference also saw the launch of the first ever Directory of Rail User Groups - a 72-page booklet listing RDS branches and nearly 150 local rail users' organisations throughout Great Britain. The directory is obtainable free from the Regulator's Office at 1 Waterhouse Square, 138-142 Holborn, London EC1N 2ST.

The directory is largely the work of RDS members Peter Cannon and Peter Lawrence and we hope that it will be regularly updated. If you have amendments or additions, please contact Peter Lawrence, 75 Marl Pit Lane, Norwich NR5 8XN.

Full report

For a full report of the conference please send £1.50 (payabale to RDS) to David Soames, 158 Atherstone Avenue, Peterborough PE3 9UN.

Into the future

In a final full session, RDS General Secretary Trevor Garrod reported on current discussions on how the society might develop over the next five years - preserving its existing strengths while developing new ways of organising in a changing transport scene.

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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