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Railwatch 074 - December 1997

North West

By Robert Cummings

Secret service Congratulations to Connex South Central for introducing its hourly Rugby to Brighton service. Now West Coast main line passengers from all parts of the North West and Western Scotland have a much more frequent service to Clapham Junction, Gatwick Airport and Brighton and vice versa with just one change of train, no doubt they'll be using it in their droves. Well, actually, er . . . no. A recent visit to the information office in Manchester revealed a disturbing lack of information (forget asking because the queues are horrendous). No leaflets, no posters, no press advertising. Do they think the public is psychic! What happened to entrepreneurial flair? An article in Modern Railways claims the service was planned in BR days and would have happened eventually (which was why it is included in Connex's franchise agreement). Apex tickets? I doubt it, not with two TOCs involved (especially with one already operating services from the North to the South Coast). Marvellous thing this privatisation!

Where are our trains? First there was South West Trains, then there was Regional Railways North East. Now North Western Trains (NWT) are at it! What is it? It's the cancellation of trains through a lack of drivers and guards and NWT have been doing it throughout the summer. So why the lack of outrage in the press? Perhaps it was because NWT has not cut staff numbers like the other train operators as, allegedly, the crisis was due to internal promotions! Still it's not been much fun for users of the Rose Hill to Manchester Piccadilly service that has borne the brunt of the cancellations. Peak frequencies were cut from 20 to 30 minutes in June 1996 to help improve reliability! On the showing of the last few months I think they'd rather have an "unreliable" 20-minute frequency!

Single-minded Beware, short-sighted 1960s-thinking dinosaurs are alive and well and working for Railtrack! Despite the long overdue pots of dosh that are being pumped into the network, Railtrack is still dreaming up ways to save money that are questionable financially and a disaster for users. The line from Princes Risborough to Bicester is being re-doubled and there is talk of re-doubling on the Salisbury-Exeter line, but Railtrack's latest wheeze is to propose singling a large chunk of the Carnforth to Barrow line over the viaducts that skirt Morecambe Bay. The economics of singling are dubious. Such schemes cost money to implement and savings from halving the amount of track to maintain are reduced by the cost of repairing wear and tear on the remaining track. Loss of business due to unreliability is not easy to quantify. Timetables that accomodate single-line working only exist in Heaven because in the real world out-of-course running is inevitable. This is particularly important on this route which carries trains between Manchester Airport and Barrow-in-Furness. There's no point taking the train to the plane if the plane is halfway across the Atlantic before you get to the airport!

Good news The West Coast Main Line upgrade, with line speeds of up to 140 miles per hour will commence shortly although I'll believe it only when I see it. This project has had more false starts than Linford Christie! Bob Horton's assertion on 10 January 1994 that he was "Confident that by this time next year our plans will be concrete and we will be engaging a consortium to to carry out the work..." was beginning to wear a bit thin!

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