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Railwatch 084 - June 2000

Come on board - and let's go

By Alix Stredwick

Campaigns Director

As the Transport Bill makes its way through Parliament the likelihood of the RDS's amendments being taken up looks slim but we have helped kick up a fuss about rail land sales. In fact this issue resulted in 16 pages of debate by the standing committee. Michael Moore MP put forward our amendment and vigorously questioned the Transport Minister.

MPs Peter Snape (a vice-president of RDS) and Don Foster (Bath) were also instrumental in getting the message across. Our thanks to all the MPs who took up the rail land case.

RDS campaigns were used as case studies on several occasions and it is fair to say that our views were listened to, even though the amendments were withdrawn.

The situation has been clarified with respect to appealing to the Secretary of State who can stop land sales going ahead as a last resort.

We are also told by minister Keith Hill that the Rail Regulator is considering a new licence condition "which would impose on Railtrack controls on the disposal of relevant assets that would include the disposal of land."

The shadow Strategic Rail Authority will also retain BRB (now Rail Property Ltd) land where there is a realistic prospect for future transport use, describing the "foreseeable future" as up to 20 years.

So we achieved some success. The campaigning by the RDS had an effect. There has been a lot of hard work going on by our branches, committees and here at 'RDS Central'. But I don't think the land sales issue will go away. We will try to get our amendments through the House of Lords.

RPL still doesn't acknowledge that the whole land sales story is being carried through in the wrong order. RPL should be waiting until many processes have been completed that will decide future rail developments .

Passenger re-franchising is still in its early stages, the Government's 10-year transport plan is finalised this summer, and five-year-long Local Transport Plans are out this month.

Journey Solutions, the rail-bus industry's project to provide greater integration of services, has only just begun its innovative work.

It may well come up with schemes that would require small pockets of land near rail stations ... but only to find that they have already been sold off for a non-transport use. So there is still much work to be done, and you can be sure that the RDS is on alert. With the opening in May of the Lord Cullen Inquiry into the Paddington disaster last year, there has been renewed media interest in rail safety.

I have dealt with a flurry of media inquiries and spoken on several radio shows, my main points being: We don't want people to be put off using trains if safety measures as a result of the Paddington crash put ticket prices up.

UK rail travellers already pay high ticket prices and this is often the main deterrent to using the train. There would be serious safety implications if passengers are forced to switch to cars.

Train travel is still nearly 20 times safer than travel by car and five times safer than bus or coach. But we still want automatic train protection on high-speed lines and trains. The public needs to know safety is at the top of the industry's agenda and that rail is the safest way of getting from A to B.

The Government should help out and provide some of the cash. The previous Government decided against installing ATP network-wide at a cost then of £600million, but spent more than £2billion on privatisation.

The Government's current £1.4billion "subsidy" of UK rail (we call it investment) should be retained for improving rail services, with improved safety measures as part of this spending.

Other work we've been involved with here at the RDS office has revolved around our very welcome new member of staff, Kate Tudor-Pole. She's been getting her teeth into the job with enthusiasm for the mammoth task of fund raising she has ahead of her!

We have produced another pack for RDS branches with information on a series of issues, ranging from the multi-modal studies, rail freight land sales, European Car-Free day and a concise contacts list of the rail industry. Please contact the RDS office if you would like a copy of the contacts list.

I am also asking for help from branches to feed into the RDS response to Railtrack's Network Management Statement and to help update the RDS aspirations for reopenings across the country. It's all go here!

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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