For the first time, RDS was represented at a multinational conference of rail users organisations in October. I travelled to Mulhouse in France to join with over 60 campaigners from France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The theme of the conference was better rail links between the different countries. Speakers included the enthusiastic mayor of Mulhouse on his plans for "le train-tram" - a new light rail system in and around the city, and a German local government officer on how seamless public transport was being developed in the Basle area, embracing three countries.
Mulhouse is linked across the Rhine valley to Mulheim by an electrified freight-only line, and our German friends in Pro Bahn (the German equivalent of RDS) had organised a service over it for the day. I was privileged to ride in the packed modern diesel multiple unit whose passengers were greeted at Mulheim by banner-waving members of the Green Party (now part of the German government) and free glasses of local wine. As I explained to two local journalists, we in Great Britain had organised similar charters over the years and our record in rail reopenings was now quite impressive.
One lesson to emerge from the conference, and which was highlighted in the lively discussions before and afterwards, was the common ground between our organisations and methods of tackling similar problems.
How to counter the arguments of the road lobby (which is opposing the construction of a light rapid transit system in Luxembourg) figured in our informal talks. The importance of building a consensus between key players was emphasised in the conference itself.
The question of a train service to Basle-Mulhouse airport was raised, and we were told that, in France, a throughput of 10,000,000 passengers a year is normally deemed necessary to justify a direct rail link. Both our German and Luxembourg counterparts have published guides to hotels near railway stations. Here is an idea which RDS could also consider.
Delegates were interested to learn of the prospects for our Channel Tunnel rail link and the possibilities for through or easy travel north of London; and also of our experiences, good and bad, of privatisation. Copies of our publications sold readily in three currencies! This was the fifth conference of its type to be held, and another is likely next year. Meanwhile, it has been suggested that an informal Round Table be instituted for European rail campaigners. During the winter we will be corresponding with our Continental colleagues as we explore ideas on joint lobbying and how we can help each other.
Our countries are all linked by rail, nearly all of us are in the European Union and the companies supporting our trains are often international, so there is plenty of scope for us to work together. For a full conference report (prepared by the International & EU committee), please send a large SAE to: Trevor Garrod, 15 Clapham Road, Lowestoft NR32 1RQ
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