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Railwatch 084 - June 2000

Platform - your letters

Trains good, cars bad

I was infuriated when I read the article by Michael Weinberg in Railwatch 83in which he pointed how comfortable his car was compared to the new Midland Mainline class 170 trains. He does not take into account the environmental advantages of rail travel. Going by car is damaging to health, creates pollution, noise, congestion, and is inherently dangerous. It fragments the countryside and decimates wildlife habitats.

David Bailey, 27 North Lodge Close, Dawlish, Devon EX7 9QD

Role for roads

As a recent member of the RDS, I have been disappointed to see a significant number of letters and articles in Railwatch with a vehemently anti-road bias. Roads provide the convenience and flexibility of movement for freight and people that rail never can. However rail has an important role to play in a genuinely integrated transport system, notably for bulk freight movement, for some commuter and inter-city passenger travel, and for freight movements over 200-400 miles.

Peter Phillips, 15 Kings Avenue, Redhill, Surrey RH1 6QHTownandCountryStrategies@compuserve.com

Lorries on trains

The best way forward for freight is containers and swap bodies which allows for an easy switch from road to rail. Road hauliers seem reluctant to use rail in this was so they must be financially jolted. There should be road tolls for lorries over 10 tonnes travelling further than 100 miles. Only small lorries should be allowed into cities, towns and villages.

Kent should be able to levy hefty tolls on international lorries and perhaps on cars too. The taxes raised could be used to design new lorry semi trailers which can be easily transferred to rail. Then we might be able to enjoy hot weather without praying for rain to disperse the pollution.

R E Norton, Wye, Ashford, Kent

Think big

If the Channel Tunnel rail link is too small for lorries to go piggyback on trains, should we not be asking who is making these short-sighted decisions about the loading gauge?

Policy handed down from government has been generally to build too small. Ministry pressure was applied to CrossRail planners so that in its present form it could not be used by long-distance trains, from Weymouth to Norwich for example.

The Department of Transport manages to provide massive bridges on roads and motorways with plenty of clearance. A lorry-compatible M4-A34 junction is costing £36million. But the five new Thames tunnels are barely big enough for tiny Tube trains and useless for Eurostars which could otherwise run through on power from the third rail.

Forget double-decker trains or jam-busting through trains. Heathrow Express has been built so that it cannot take full-size main line trains. London, the country's biggest consumer of freight, has built no railways for freight since 1933. Railway managers should be encouraged to raise their game. A single-track tunnel of the future should be at least 7.3 metres in diameter.

Lyndon Elias, 10 Sandringham Road, Didcot OX11 8TP

Dirty diesels

The replacement of electric trains by diesels by Anglia Rail will have far-reaching environmental consequences. Since its modernisation, Liverpool Street station, up till now all electric, has remained remarkably clean and a pleasure to use.

This will change as diesel fumes slowly overlay the brickwork and paint with grime. To see the effect of diesel fumes, look at Paddington, the dirtiest of all the London terminals.

Christopher Terrell, Manor House, Alderton, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3BL

Editor's note: The noise from diesels is also unpleasant and makes it difficult for passengers to hear loudspeaker announcements.

Integrated transport

It is sad to see the Commission for Integrated Transport recommending unrestricted use of 44 tonne lorries. This "policy" has not been thought through.

Alan Crowhurst, 2 Clematis Cottages DY14 0HF

Public service

I agree with 99% of what is in Railwatch, but the best way to deal with the problems of the railways is to take them back into public ownership. Who will take the first step?

Don Wright, 4 Hardy Court, Marshall Row, Swanage, Dorset BH19 2AF

Alarm bells

The RDS freight committee is becoming increasingly concerned at the activities of SUSTRANS. Most, if not all of you, will be aware that SUSTRANS is a charity set up with the laudable aim of promoting sustainable transport, cycling.

To this end they have been given thousands of miles of closed railway routes to convert to cycle tracks with the proviso that they should be handed back if required in the future for transport use. Several instances have occurred where freight proposals have been thwarted because SUSTRANS will not hand back the former rail route unless someone provides an alternative cycle track.

As this can often involve land purchase, in one case over £1 million, the freight scheme becomes unviable and the freight continues to move by road, hardly the desired outcome.

So far as we are aware, there was no requirement to provide an alternative cycle path when they were given the land and such a requirement is now thwarting legitimate rail use. When you add the fact that most of this "so called" sustainable transport is actually cycles carried by motor car deep into the countryside and our national parks for recreational use, causing further congestion, it calls the whole system into question. A reopened rail route could carry those cycles to the same spot without involving private cars. On behalf of the freight committee I am asking for any evidence of SUSTRANS activities in this area that branches may have, so that it can be collated and the whole picture gathered for possible future use.

George Boyle, 200 Buxton Road, Furness Vale, High Peak, Derbyshire, SK23 7PXfurnessvale@aol.com

Action idea

There were lots of good articles in the latest issue of Railwatch but how about having a section in each issue for suggestions of things members can do. For example, write letters to "X" about "Y". Friends of the Earth do this in their magazine Earth Matters and it seems a very good idea. Keep up the good work.

Tony Chafer, School of Languages & Area Studies, Park Building, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth PO1 2DZtony.chafer@port.ac.uk

Well done, Steve

I was not aware until recently that Steve Wilkinson was standing down as RDS chairman after 10 years in the post. I would like to take this opportunity of thanking him for all the hard work he has done for the society over the past decade.

I know his health has not been so good of late, but he has been a great source of help and inspiration. Here's to a happy retirement.

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

A good read

I am an avid subscriber of Railwatchwhich both my wife and I consider a very readable and informative magazine. Keep up the good work.

Philp Sylvester, 208 Hornby Road, Blackpool, Lancashire FY1 4HX

Mobile phones

I wonder whether the rail companies have given any thought to the increasingly disruptive effect of mobile phones on rail travel.

I am having more and more journeys spoilt by other people's loud conversations, and by their phones' tasteless electronic tunes. A businessman on my train was using the compartment as his personal office, ostentatiously conducting business deals and receiving incoming calls at the rate of more than one a minute. I regret not having reproached him for his arrogance. If no etiquette can be established or upheld, should not the rail companies set aside compartments or carriages where - as with smokers - they can all pollute one another's environment?

Andrew Schofield, 162 Thoday Street, Cambridge CB1 3AXandrew.schofield@marketlink.co.uk

Interlocking dispute

Julian Hayward (Railwatch 83) criticises me for suggesting that signal interlocking would have averted the Ladbrook Grove disaster. It would have - or it would certainly have made that disaster far less likely.

True, the disaster would not have happened had not the Turbo, for whatever reason, gone through a red light. But it did. Interlocking would have prevented the signals for the oncoming high speed train being set to green while the points were set to send the errant Turbo into its path. Thus, interlocking would have prevented the disaster unless not one, but two, trains had run through red lights.

As Julian Hayward points out, setting those points the other way would have simply diverted the Turbo on to another route. However, that would have averted the Ladbrook Grove disaster for the simple reason that at the time there was not a train on that route.

Full interlocking would have prevented a disaster because that route's signals could not then have been set to green. Thus, again, an accident would have happened only if not one but two trains ran through red lights.

Peter A Moore, 24 Charles Watson Court, Shuckburgh Grove, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire CV32 7NT

Caledonian catering

I was sorry to read that Alan Young had been disappointed by the standard of catering in our lounge cars on the Caledonian sleeper services. We introduced at the end of March a new menu which offers supper rather than dinner in a more realistic expectation of our customers' needs for late night refreshment before they retire to bed.

With their departures timed for just before midnight, the Lowland sleepers between Glasgow or Edinburgh and London carry sufficient supplies to offer what is effectively a cocktail service of food to accompany a nightcap. For the Highland sleepers which leave in mid-evening linking Aberdeen, Inverness or Fort William with London we aim to offer a selection of courses so that customers can have a starter or sweet or just a main course. Space is of course limited, but on neither train is our supply of wine as meagre as just one bottle.

We were very grateful for Mr Young's kind remarks about other aspects of the sleeper experience, and hope that he will find the catering to be more satisfactory during his future travels with us.

John Yellowlees, External Relations Manager, ScotRail, Caledonian Chambers, 87 Union Street, Glasgow G1 3TA

Tables out

I have travelled thousands of miles annually by rail for many years and use a car only as a last resort. I disagree strongly with the suggestion (Railwatch 83) that trains need more tables. In my experience, fixed four seat tables are usually poorly designed and uncomfortably high. They are impossible to use for the serious reading or writing work with which I normally fill my travelling time. They are hopeless when using a laptop. When reserving a seat I now always specify not a table.

I found the older bus-style seating excellent for doing work. However, in some East Coast stock, some idiot has designed this seat style with massive hinges on its drop tables. These hinges are carefully shaped, and at just the right height, to ensure maximum damage to the traveller's knees. On these trains I find that the most comfortable journey is obtained by sitting on the tip-up seats in the coach vestibules.

I sometimes wonder if designers of modern rail stock ever travel by train. How, with privatisation, does one find addresses to submit comments to them?

R G Silson, near Station, Tring, Herts HP23 5QX

Safety improving

Peter Rayner in Railwatch 83 comments that he thought the safety battle was being won on the railways but now is not so sure. In fact the battle was being won throughout the past decade as any analysis of railway accident statistics will show.

Not only have passenger fatalities in train crashes almost halved since the 1980s but in addition the numbers of staff and passengers being killed in other accidents has plunged as well.

There is no such thing as a completely safe railway, but Britain's rail system is a much safer place to be than it was a decade ago. That's not to say that this is the result of privatisation. On the contrary, most of the reductions are down to initiatives started by BR. In the next few years this will improve even further with the advent of the Train Protection Warning System reducing the risk of almost any of the fatal collisions of the last 10 years being repeated to almost nil.

TPWS deals with the vast majority of potential risks and it is not as if Automatic Train Protection has been dumped either. It is already installed and working on the Great Western main line and will almost certainly be in place in some form or other on the East and West Coast main lines within a decade too.

ATP was of no relevance to the cause of most of the serious accidents on Britain's railways in the past 30 years and even those caused by driver error would probably have been prevented by TPWS. What then is Peter Rayner's argument that the case for ATP is overwhelming?

Michael Bailey, 102 Milton Road, Prestwich, Manchester M25 1PU

Case for Ivanhoe

If RDS is to have any credibility as a campaigning organisation we must promote rail schemes on their benefit to rail users, society as a whole and value for any public money invested, rather than emotional attachment or a "wishlist" approach.

Railwatch 83's front page article, Promises, Promises mentions two schemes, regional Eurostars and Leicestershire's Ivanhoe line, as worthy of support and speedy implementation. But I think the second is far more desirable than the first.

Regional Eurostars would produce few benefits for passengers or the environment. They would be too slow, expensive and inconvenient to attract many people from planes and cars. I doubt they would remove a single plane from the skies. And if they need subsidy, it would be hypocritical for RDS, which rightly campaigns for a level playing field between transport modes, to support subsidising international rail services when competing air and sea operations are unsubsidised.

The Channel Tunnel Act's promise of regional services was the worst kind of political interference in transport planning, and should be quietly forgotten.

RDS should focus on ensuring Railtrack builds stage two of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which will give good domestic-international rail connections in London, and on developing rail services to regional airports.

The Ivanhoe line, in contrast, would restore passenger trains to a large population in an important local transport corridor, and potentially reduce traffic congestion and pollution in Leicester.

This, and similar schemes, really enhance people's travel choices and improve the environment.

Chris Packham, 49 Northdown Road, Hatfield, Herts AL10 8SH

Stansted way out?

It was encouraging to read in Railwatch that there is a good possibility of the Stansted-Braintree rail link being seriously considered. The conference which RDS organised last year was very professionally mounted and I was glad that as an RDS member I had attended.

It was clear that the "Surface Access Department" of the airport does see itself as taking the rail links seriously which is good news. But if the airport wants to build up a reputation of being a rail hub as well as an air hub it will have to think of providing a rail-traveller's car park as a separate facility from the air traveller's car park.

I know people who live in London and travel by rail to Stansted Airport to visit friends who live not far from the airport. They tell me that if one arrives by train at Stansted the only direction signs point to the air terminal and that there are no signs to car parks, buses, or even the way out!

As rail use increases further, might we hope that the "Surface Access" specialists there will become good all-rounders and provide information on surface access, entry and exit for planes trains, buses and cars?

E A Alleyn-Gilmour, 29 Coopers Hill, Marden Ash, Ongar, Essex CM5 5EE

Crazier and crazier

Donna Sharp asks why (Railwatch 82) Network cards are valid Exeter-Waterloo but not Exeter-Paddington. Well, in this part of the world, we have an even crazier situation.

Network cards from Colchester to London are valid on Great Eastern trains but not on Anglia Railways, yet the trains travel over the same tracks! Also, I would like to know who decreed that Exeter was within Network SouthEast while Ipswich was not.

Finally, some years ago, at considerable expense, the line from Ipswich to Norwich was electrified. Strange then, that Anglia Railways now runs diesel trains along these tracks.

Roger Smith, 67 The Street, Little Waltham, Chelmsford Essex CM3 3NT

Turbostar fan

I am writing in amazement at Michael Weinberg's article, in which he destroys the Midland MainLine Turbostars.

He has completely missed the point of these superb trains. They were never intended to provide a through service from London to Sheffield, and indeed most of them do not travel the whole line. Their function is to transform the service at smaller stations, freeing the 125s for quicker London-Sheffield journeys with fewer stops. The mid-route interchange at Leicester is ideal for transfer between the two trains.

Comparing a Turbostar with a steam train is like comparing a biscuit with a spoon: pointless. And if Michael Weinberg knew he could have travelled by 125, why didn't he? Can't he read a timetable?

Thanks to Turbostars, my wife and I can visit her brother in Kettering, taking the baby in his pram (for which there is a special space on board), with an hourly choice of trains. On the 35-minute journey (half the time it takes by road) she would have no time to visit any restaurant car. MML's free tea and coffee is just right for the job.

The spacious baby-changing toilet is the best I've seen on a train. Yes, the diesel engine is noisy, but waiting indefinitely for Railtrack to electrify the route would have denied thousands of people a decent train service. Of course they stop often, that's the point, and if Michael Weinberg objects to cold air, he shouldn't go out in winter. He should stay in with his silver teapots and china cups. If he feels people are getting bigger, presumably he refers to himself, and should travel in 1st-class wide-seat splendour. I fit in a Turbostar seat. He then goes on to complain about personal stereos.

I am dismayed that you should publish such anti-rail views in Railwatch. I didn't read his second article. I don't work for MML. I just use their trains.

Mike Bond,172 Putteridge Road, Stopsley, Luton, Beds LU2 8HJmabond@172putteridge.freeserve.co.uk

Central potential

While it is good to hear of Central's aspirations for the Birmingham-Shrewsbury-Aberystwyth route and its route to Chester via Wrexham, what is the future for local stations between Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury?

The stopping service should cater for suburban commuters west of the West Midlands conurbation stretching out to Telford and beyond. Currently only the main stations are well-served while local, unstaffed stations are the poor relations. Neither the peak nor off-peak service provides an attractive frequency.

There is hope that an hourly shuttle extended out from the poorly patronised Wolverhampton-Walsall service to link Wellington will bridge the gap. This might be of benefit if good connections are provided at Wolverhampton and Wellington.

However, the market for peak-hour travel into Birmingham needs to be developed too and local stations, where suitable, geared up for park-and-ride business. Codsall and Albrighton stations are ideally situated, being close to local main roads and having an extensive catchment area.

A good start would be improved signs from the main roads to raise awareness of these stations in the local area. This needs to be addressed by local councils.

Michael R J Crump, Shrewsbury-Wolverhampton Rail Users Association,
4 Wolverhampton Road, Codsall, Wolverhampton WV8 1PR

Editor's note: The Highways Agency also has a responsibility to promote integrated transport.

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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