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Railwatch 075 - April 1998

PLATFORM - Your letters

Bussed off

I read the article "Rail users go by bus". There it was a matter of the routine use of buses to replace trains by Central Trains and ScotRail, both of which companies are owned by National Express. Now this may be convenient for National Express, a bus company, but as you said in your article: "Rail passengers pay for a seat on a train." This sounds to me like a contract. The Regulator should impose on these companies the requirement to refund to the passengers the difference between an often subsidised bus fare and the rail fare charged. With such a scheme in operation they would be more likely to look around for extra rolling stock to lease.

Dr David G Guild, 5B Grange Road, Edinburgh EH9 1TX

Exciting plans

I was saddened to see Railwatch suggesting that National Express franchises were routinely putting on road coaches in place of leasing more rolling stock.

It is not true that Central or ScotRail (the alleged culprits) have been deliberately transferring demand to road coaches. Engineering works and operational failures do, of course, sometimes mean coaches but our use of road vehicles is minimal. In fact ScotRail has not used coaches to relieve rail demand on any occasion since National Express took over.

On Central, we had a problem for a few weeks last summer on the Nottingham-Skegness route which caused us to set up a limted standby bus arrangement. We have worked out a solution to put more rail capacity into this service for the equivalent weeks this year.

It is misleading to suggest there is a fleet of usable rolling stock lying around waiting to be hired. We commissioned an objective technical report which showed that there are 750 vehicles off-lease.

There were 305 electric multiple units, seven electric locos, 208 loco-hauled coaches in poor condition or needing major modifications, 173 other loco-hauled vehicles - but only one serviceable loco to go with them - and 59 diesel multiple units, either first generation or in need of major overhaul.

The truth is that we are developing exciting plans for new rolling stock for ScotRail and Central.

We have announced new stock for Midland Main Line and Gatwick Express and are committed to phase out "heritage" diesels on Silverlink and ScotRail.

We are committed to growing our rail business with quality products and RDS members may like to help us spread the word!

Richard Brown, Chief Executive, Trains Division, National Express Group, Midland House, Nelson Street, Derby DE1 2SA

Spectacular growth

Connex South Central's history-making Gatwick Airport-Rugby link has seen ridership rise from 17,000-plus in its first four weeks to more than 80,000 a month. It is, then, far from the secret service Robert Cummings implies in his dispatch from the North West (Railwatch, December 1997).

Since its launch in June, Connex South Central has invested a considerable sum in marketing and promoting this link in and around its principal destinations. Hence the spectacular growth.

Further, in partnership with Virgin Trains, we have produced a timetable which includes details of the link. This is, I believe, the first time two train operating companies have formed a partnership to promote their services jointly.

John Hampson, Commercial Director, Connex South Central, Stephenson House, 2 Cherry Orchard House, Croydon CR9 6JB

Wheelchair plea

Being permanently confined to a wheelchair, trains in principle are the only form of accessible public transport for me. Often however many are inacessible because of stairs to and from platforms.

Things are improving but when you have buses replacing trains, as with ScotRail and Central Trains, this limited independence is removed immediately.

It is about time the Regulator fined firms which reneged on their duty to provide a modern, efficient rail service by substituting trains with buses.

Colin Jardine, 6 Forbes Street, Edinburgh EH8 9SL

Electrification

Congratulations to Keith March (Railwatch December 1997) for highlighting the glaring omission of a future electrification programme by Railtrack. This is a clear illustration of the short termism that franchising really is. In a non-electrified area the franchisee will only be interested in diesel traction.

The worst example is the Midland Main Line, where the franchisee has ordered diesel units to run between Leicester and London St Pancras, a ludicrous state of affairs when 50% of the route is already electrified.

An electrification programme could be a new job for the Regulator or the Strategic Rail Authority, with sufficient powers of direction over "risk taking" Railtrack.

What are the risks they are taking. In reality they are as good an example of a cost-plus profit organisation as you can get, spending hugh sums of taxpayers' money, no doubt hoping we will all quietly forget that we now pay nearly double the subsidy since privatisation to run rail services than under the old BR. Electrification is a long-term commitment, which is precisely what the 1993 Transport Act cut across, with its short-term franchising, leasing and costly bureaucracy.

Irving Nicol, 6 Beckinsale Grove, Crownhill, Milton Keynes, Bucks MKB ODU

Uphill in Glasgow

I read the item in Railwatch 74 on the proposed cross-Glasgow tunnel with mounting incredulity. The most important information omitted was the type of rack system to be used to enable trains to climb up the fearsome gradients!

Surely it would be more logical to extend south from Queen Street High Level on a low viaduct only half a mile long, to an end-on junction with Central station? The city authorities have demolished most of the city centre in recent years for redevelopment and road schemes, so should have no objection to bulldozing this small area as well. It should even be possible to move any worthwhile buildings that are in the way.

Malcolm Goodall, Albemarle Cottage, Eakring, Notts NG22 0DA

Railway forward

An organisation calling itself Rail for Herefordshire Group has been set up with the aim of reinstating lines in the county. Of prime interest, because of its likely impact on easing the dire traffic and pollution problems in Hereford city, is the reopening of the old routes west to Hay and east to Ross and so on to Gloucester. Mostly in remote countryside, very little trackbed land has been built over while numerous bridges and indeed tunnels remain in situ.

Dr Stephen Sheppard, 45 Hewitt Avenue, King's Acre, Hereford HR4 0QR

Inner contradiction

I am trying to make sense of the emerging new transport policy.

I was delighted to see the Government's backing for the Road Traffic Reduction (UK Targets) Bill.

Days later, I learned that it is to invest £40m of public money in building new Jaguar cars, which are not reputed to be the greenest and most fuel-efficient of marques.

The Government's line seems to be that this investment will provide so many jobs. If that is the objective then why do they not invest it in public transport, which they urge us to use instead of our cars, and which, pound for pound invested, will return many more jobs than new car factories where most of the work will be done by robots.

Richard Evans, ETA National Car-Free Day Co-ordinator, 29 Somerset Avenue, Raynes Park, London SW20 0BJ

pascale@compuserve.com

Busways

I was surprised to see guided busways described as a flawed concept in Railwatch. Whenever improvements to public transport are considered, each scheme must be viewed on its individual merits. In some instances, guided busways may be favourable, in others metro, tram links or trains may be more suitable.

Just because a disused rail line exists does not necessarily mean that rail should automatically return. I am not aware of the finer points of the Northampton guided bus project, but to suggest that this option is a "flawed concept" is 'a staggeringly blinkered view.

Many guided bus systems already operate across the UK, Europe and worldwide very successfully.

Integration between all modes of public transport with quality of service will go a long way to reducing car culture. It is time to stop knocking other forms of public transport.

Phil Tonks, National Federation of Bus Users, 40 Chapel Street, Wordsley, Stourbridge, West Midlands DY8 5QP

Running London

Railwatch 74 refers to "the people who run London". But since the demise of the Greater London Council, no one runs London! It is managed by a collection of mutually antagonistic local authorities.

Mike Holt, 64 Chandos Road, East Finchley, London N2 9AP

Taxi plea

While the RDS is of course mainly concerned with trains, other forms of public transport should not be ignored.

Taxis can make a valuable contribution to train travel, taking passengers from home to the railway station, and from station to destination.

The national railway information phone line (0345 484950) should be able to tell people which stations have a taxi rank. Where there is none, railway stations should have large signs giving the telephone number of the nearest taxi company.

RDS should press railway operating companies to provide these signs at all stations without a taxi rank.

G F Manley, 16 Lorne Court, 51 Putney Hill, London SW15 6RX

Choking

So Richard Branson, no less, (Guardian 18 December) cites RDS research as evidencing Virgin Rail as the third most improved railway since BR ownership. I was still choking with laughter when I found the buffet car closed (again!) on my way to Euston - arrival 80 minutes late! The hysterics returned as my journey back to Manchester was at least an hour late. Third most improved? Methinks this is virgin on the ridiculous!

Maybe a Virgin journey would be quicker by balloon? Or perhaps not!

Branson should stop whingeing at fully justified criticism. He knew what he was buying. Tarting up the carriages is no substitute for reliable travel. Nor are cheap promotiona1 fares - with all the time restrictions - any compensation for hiking up all other fares.

Martin Rimmington, 17 Cavendish Gardens, Bolton BL3 3G

EDITOR'S NOTE: The RDS national rail survey was widely featured in national TV and radio bulletins as well as in the national and local press. The Sunday Times used it as a basis for a major feature.

My goal

Ormskirk to Preston trains could be extended along the two-mile long intact line from Preston to Deepdale Road which is in a densely populated area of terraced housing. The trains could also serve the football stadium which is a popular destination for thousands of people. Unfortunately even the local rail users group shows little interest in what could be a cost-effective and affordable scheme.

Graham Lund, 179 Dalrymple Street, Girvan KA26 9BG

Sorry Saver

As a former inhabitant of Atherstone, where I was actively involved in efforts to boost the Trent Valley Line, I can sympathise with Polesworth resident Valerie Evans (Railwatch 74). It is terrible that in order to get to Euston at around the same time as before, she'd have to pay more than double. Certainly it seems that the new rail companies are tightening up the availability of Saver/Supersaver trains.

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

RDS opportunity

RDS has a wealth of experience which could be of immense benefit to the privatised railway as big investment schemes are coming through or being planned. If RDS continues being implacably hostile to the new companies, RDS will be ignored. These companies deserve some criticism but most of what is wrong with the railway is years of neglect.

R Wilkes, 29 Tower Road, Shipley, Yorks BD18 4BP

EDITOR'S NOTE: RDS has established many fruitful contacts with the new rail companies and is co-operating with them. We do however cherish our independent status.

Rail potential

I wish a train operator would show some interest in running a south-north rail link for Wiltshire. At present, travelling from Salisbury to Swindon requires a substantial wait at Bath.

A service could however be run from Portsmouth to Gloucester, via Melksham and Thingley Junction, giving a Swindon-Salisbury journey time of one hour. The bus from Salisbury to Swindon takes two hours to travel 50 miles and even by car it takes one hour 40 minutes, according to the AA. The train would be highly competitive.

David Duckworth, Old Post Office, Charlton-All-Saints, Salisbury, Wilts SP5 4HQ

Closure by stealth

It seems that the law no longer requires a notice to be displayed at a station which the Franchise Director wants to close. He only has to put a notice in the local newspaper. At Sinfin Central station there is no indication that the station is under threat. The law is obviously inadequate as many rail users do not read the local papers. RDS should campaign for a law requiring closure notices to be posted at all threatened stations.

Bill Collins, 8a Moorland Road, Mickleover, Derby DE3 5FX

Social service

While I sympathise with the problem of Valerie Evans featured on the front page of the December Railwatch, surely no railway is there to provide a social service?

Any concession fares are aimed at filling seats which would otherwise be empty, and it makes no sense for the operators to deny themselves full fares on full trains.

Extra trains will only be justified if they in turn produce a profit, to finance maintenance and replacement, and there is a practicable path in which they can run. Perhaps trains with a higher capacity may be an option.

Ted Roberts, Gower House, 92 Drift Road, Stamford, Lincs PE9 1XB

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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