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Railwatch 070 - December 1996

The Great Western way

The boss of Great Western said he hoped to empty the M4 of cars by offering such a good train service that no-one would want to suffer the boredom and inconvenience of driving on the motorway.

"We want to make Great Western the first choice for millions of customers," managing director Brian Scott told the rail users conference.

He said that 45,000 cars left London every day heading for South Wales so there was a big potential market to win.

One way of stepping up the frequency of train services might be to split InterCity 125 trains into two. The present trains - made up of eight passenger coaches and two engines - could divide when operationally necessary if driving cabs were provided in two of the centre coaches.

The train could then, for instance, operate as one unit out of London but divide at some point so that one engine and four coaches could go in one direction and the other engine and four coaches could go elsewhere.

The divided trains would also allow Great Western to offer half-hour frequency from London to Bristol and South Wales during off-peak periods.

But Mr Scott, head of one of the first operating companies to be privatised, also said Great Western planned to lease two extra InterCity 125 trains from next year when the Scotland-London Waterloo units become available from April.

He said the 125s are very reliable and will be fitted with new Paxman engines over the next two years. The trains were already undergoing a mid-life refurbishment and would all be given a new green livery over the next three years.

But there were many other initiatives to make rail more user friendly.

Local food was being served in the buffet, mobile-phone-and-stereo-free quiet zones were being established along with family-friendly areas. Motorail may soon be back.

Children were even offered a special sandwich, made of chocolate, cheese spread and banana. "You may think that's really revolting, but they seem to like it," said Mr Scott.

Cycle facilities are to be doubled, and a bus link may be established from Swansea to Aberystwyth.

Quality of service would be enhanced and there would be special offers, like the £36 family ticket for four people.

But he questioned the need for electrification which RDS believes could give a quantum leap in quality, reliability and efficiency.

"Our diesel railway is as efficient as the electrified railway," he said. "And of course there is the question of where would you electrify to. It could involve the loss of through trains. Would you cut off some of our network?

"It is far from clear that electrification is the best choice."

He said that 60% of his employees had shares in Great Western and he predicted: "I believe the privatised railway will be a better railway. "There will be a rail renaissance and more people will be persuaded to put money into rail. We are turning the corner. We got 6% real growth this year and we can improve on that."

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