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Railwatch 075 - April 1998

Trains to Europe, please

By David Hansen

Over the past few years we have seen a number of blows to our great hopes for the Channel Tunnel passenger services. First the sleeper trains were cancelled, then the North of London day trains, and finally the high speed link is in trouble amid talk of the current Eurostar service not attracting enough passengers.

One of the main problems is that the Eurostar service is not integrated with other train services in Britain.

At most railway stations throughout the country, the atmosphere is user-friendly when passengers change trains. This is in marked contrast to Waterloo, where they are treated like criminals by security staff, are forced to wait in a waiting room instead of having the choice of waiting on the platform where they can watch what is going on.

The atmosphere discourages travellers from relaxing and fully enjoying the experience. This is one reason why numbers using the service are not as high as expected. Eurostar is run like an airline not a train service.

Interestingly, the dedicated airport train services in Germany were not a great success until they were integrated with the rest of the train service. Sadly we are making the same mistake with the Heathrow Express. Are such experiences inevitable for people using trains to another country or travelling through long tunnels in an era of terrorism?

The answer is no. Go to mainland Europe and see how they do things there, or get on a Dublin train in Belfast. The trains are just part of normal life. There are long tunnels in London, the Alps and under the River Severn. No fuss, no nonsense.

Yet the service to the European mainland is cut off from the rest of the network. As long as this continues there is little chance of Eurostar thriving as it should. Without these restrictions a whole travel market would open up.

How about "booze cruises" from south-east England to supermarkets in the Calais area? Using modified Thameslink trains such trips could pick up at stations all over the area, perhaps every month or two on a rota and return people home with their shopping.

We do, after all, live in the European Union. Lets start acting as though we do.

Of particular concern to us in Scotland are the long-distance trains, particularly the sleepers. The overnight journey time for a sleeper to the Low Countries, northern France and northern Germany is attractive to two markets. Business people would appreciate the chance to travel one way by train, gaining a day and returning by air. Holiday-makers would appreciate travelling both ways by sleeper, saving two days and avoiding the hassle of air travel. The taxpayer has spent a lot of money on vehicles for these services. Has this money been spent for nothing?

The long-distance day trains will never have enough passengers travelling between such capitals as Edinburgh and Paris. The same is true of long-distance day trains from Edinburgh to Plymouth, a similar journey. The latter trains are successful because people get on and off at intermediate stations boosting the loadings.

Why cant this be done on trains to Paris? There seem to be two reasons, first the security people and second rail privatisation. Current rail operators would not be happy about competition between Edinburgh and Newcastle for instance, which would be the case if Eurostar trains could be used by all.

Both reasons are particular British diseases, self-inflicted and unnecessary. It is no wonder our friends on the mainland look on in puzzlement. The Government wants to see an integrated transport policy. It could take a significant step forward by integrating Eurostar services with the rest of the railway service, now.

Fast tracks

RDS is giving support to a new organisation, the Fast Track to Europe Alliance,which is pressing for fast, quality links from all regions of Britain to the European high-speed rail network. The alliance was launched in Birmingham on 20 February with significant local authority support, including the London boroughs of Newham and Camden, as well as Cheshire, Essex and Kent county councils, and York, Doncaster, Milton Keynes, Ipswich and Watford.

Contact: Steve Hoier 0181 472 1430 ext 22890

EuroData

Apart from the usual pleasures of being in foreign parts, most RDS members can enjoy seeing how other railways operate even if we often have little background knowledge of them. That’s why the RDS book Europe Beyond the Tunnelwas so timely. Now RDS member Michael Oakley has produced a 24-page Companionto the book, as part of his EuroData series.

The photocopied A5 booklet provides detailed listings of junctions, stations and signal-boxes so beloved by gricers but which also help less expert travellers to appreciate their surroundings.

The Companioncosts £2.50 from Michael Oakley, Sword Press, 133 Boldmere Road, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands B73

Utrecht trip

An RDS party is visiting Utrecht in the Netherlands 15-19 April. For last-minute bookings, please contact Peter Cannon on 01728 831676.

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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