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Railwatch 079 - April 1999

Railwatch - Bikes, buses and trains

By Alan Bevan

Trying to get a rail line reopened is an uphill task often left to a handful of campaigners.

There is the ever-present obstacle of having to justify schemes to road-oriented planners and officials.

Then there is the frustrating and intricate job of putting together a financial package.

And then there are challenges from what we normally view as "friendly" transport modes — bikes and buses.

The RDS reopenings committee has been trying to assess these problems.

Having gained 220 miles of former rail routes for a nominal £1 in 1998 the cycling charity Sustrans has now created a land management and development subsidiary named Rail Paths Ltd to maximise income and realise capital gains from disposals.

Thus rail reopening campaigns, already frustrated by non-rail ownership and the imposition of cycleways, are now also faced with extra cost: inflated land values and the expense of relocating any cycleway provided on the former rail route.

Other rail routes are prey to "busway bandits" who have plans for concrete or tarmac roads along trackbeds for express bus services.

Apart from severing such routes from the rail network and blocking any future rail freight or passenger developments, the buses would bring constant noise, pollution, lighting, and visual intrusion to neighbours.

The schemes are usually more expensive than a simple rail reinstatement, most patronage is likely to be abstracted from other bus routes and critically there is almost none of the much-sought modal transfer from car users.

For the moment threats of busways have been lifted from the St Ives line and the Brownhills rail route, but serious concerns still exist regarding the Dunstable branch and there is a new threat to the St Albans-Watford line.

While there are some lines where it is appropriate to convert operations to light rail, the latest concept for tram and train track-sharing poses several conundrums including reconciling different voltages, assimilating different signalling controls and integrating differing floor heights at platforms. The capital costs of light rail are of course relatively high and Government ministers have clearly indicated that public funds will not generally be available.

Evidence from Karlsruhe, Germany, is that light rail attracts some 1% of modal transfer, but that conventional rail does best of all by attracting some 40% of car users.

Thus conventional rail is best at achieving reductions in road traffic, is environmentally friendly, not unduly expensive; and can be easily and quickly introduced.

One for the West

By Roger Barlow

I have been following the rail reopening scene for about 25 years but until now I have never seen any mention of a possible restoration of services between Bristol-Bath and Poole-Bournemouth partly along the axis of the old Somerset and Dorset line.

Indeed, if a rail service exists between Bristol and Weymouth then why not to the much larger Bournemouth-Poole urban area?

While a full reopening of the steeply graded and tightly curved section north of the West of England main line would seem a non-starter, the following proposal could be con-sidered in the light of the current slowly improving rail-reopening scene:

1. The line from Poole to near the crossing point of the Paddington-Exeter main line is rebuilt.

2. A new south to east curve is built to connect the new line to the main line near Bruton.

3. Train services are restored between Bournemouth and Bristol via Poole, Broadstone, Bruton and then via Westbury and Trowbridge, the same route which Weymouth trains also follow.

4. Several stations could be reopened or rebuilt, especially Broadstone, Blandford Forum and Sturminster Marshall, all expanding centres with traffic generation possibilities.

Of course, some rebuilding would be needed where the line has been breached. I think this is the case at Blandford Forum. However in the present climate building new alignments does not seem to be a complete non-starter as it was say, 10 years ago.

It would have the following advantages:

1. The restoration of an important regional link.

2. Relief of parallel trunk roads.

3. It could help to relieve local traffic congestion in East Dorset, which is quite severe.

4. It could be part of a local rail revival in East Dorset with perhaps extensions to Wimborne, Ferndown and Ringwood.

5. It could be used as a national link with Virgin CrossCountry running trains this way from the Midlands and North to Bournemouth.

6. There could be possibilities for its use for freight.

7. It could improve travel possibilities for the large numbers of elderly people living in the Bournemouth area, who might have given up driving.

One gone West

By Eric Beint

Sensible proposals for station reopenings often fall foul of a procedure whereby individual station reopenings are considered in isolation and are found not to justify the investment necessary. What is needed is a realistic approach which takes into account the need and the benefits of recreating a network.

When consultants Oscar Faber were asked to produce a feasibility study on plans to reopen Corsham station, Wilts, they concluded: "On its own, the net revenue is unlikely to justify the capital expenditure required."

Another good idea is set back because it is not considered in context. Although Oscar Faber did point out: "Further work will be needed to consider the non-monetary benefits arising, for example, the environmental benefits of reduced traffic and reducing dependency on the car."

Last year, Oscar Faber studied the economic viability of restoring former stations at Wootton Bassett, Purton and Moredon Bridge and building new ones at South Marston and Front Garden Parkway (near junction 16 of the M4 motorway).

Again Oscar Faber concluded that none of the stations would be economically feasible.

The study was commissioned by the county council, North Wilts and Swindon Borough districts, Railtrack and Great Western Trains.

If you were cynical, you could say that Railtrack would be pleased because now it has to do nothing and spend no money.

Great Western now does not have to worry about local passengers but can carry on sending its high-speed trains carrying high-spending long-distance passengers zooming through without worrying about other trains on the line.

And Swindon Borough Council — which owns Thamesdown Transport buses — does not have to worry about trains taking away revenue from its buses.

But neither Thames Trains nor Wales & West were consulted, yet they are the two train operators who would be directly responsible if the stations became reality — and would have much to gain.

The main line has carried both express and stopping services in the past. Even now Thames Trains operate class 165s jointly with Great Western Trains between Oxford and Bristol.

They could easily serve restored stations at Grove/Wantage and Corsham.

Over 300,000 people live within the boundaries of Swindon Borough and North Wiltshire Districts. They have no local rail links.

Twenty seven stations have been closed throughout Northern Wiltshire and only eight remain operational.

Since Beeching not a single station has been restored.

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