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Railwatch 069 - October 1996

PLATFORM - Your letters

Crash safety

I caution against the general conclusion of safety "experts" that slam door trains always pose a greater hazard in an accident than modern rolling stock. False comparisons are being drawn between the accidents at Cowden and Watford. The circumstances are not directly comparable. At Cowden, there was a head-on collison while at Watford there was a diagonal glancing collision.

The new rolling stock poses a direct risk of entrapment. One survivor of the Watford crash desribed how passengers could not get the centrally locked doors open - and one can only imagine the horrific deaths which would have resulted had the wreckage caught fire.

The great advantage of the slam door trains is that exit is easier in a crash. To parody Enoch Powell, I would suggest that when all "experts" are in agreement that is the time to question what is being advocated.

Maurice Knights, 47 East Cliff Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Rails at risk

The very disturbing news that bus companies were successfully bidding for the right to operate stretches of a privatised British rail system triggered a memory of a previous similar occurrence. In the late 1930s in the United States three manufacturers of diesel buses joined with an oil and tyre company to form a transit enterprise known as National City Lines. Amply financed, it then systematically acquired over 100 vulnerable tram systems, closed them down and replaced them with diesel buses.

While American urban rail transit was already in decline, its predatory slaughter by commercial enemies materially helped wreck not only American tramways but effective urban public transport itself. The tactic of buying up the opposition and then either hobbling it or gobbling it is classic private market behaviour. How realistic is it to expect bus companies owning both buses and trains competing against each other in a deregulated transport regime to refrain from embarking on a National City Lines type of strategy?

Dr G W A Bush, Political Studies Department, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand

By car to Crewe!

I see that your North West branch meets in the Crewe Arms Hotel. There is something of an irony in RDS meetings taking place in a hotel right beside the railway station but whose leaflet tells its customers which roads to take in order to get there from other major cities.

Their leaflet does at least acknowledge there is a station "across the road" even if they do not mention it is a couple of hours from London by rail.

E A Alleyn-Gilmour, 29 Cooper Hill, Marden Ash, Ongar, Essex

Continental rail travel

My wife and I will be going to Italy in September, an arrangement we made in May this year.

We wanted to travel by train to Levanto (just east of Genoa). We had planned to journey to Paris by Eurostar and connect with an overnight train to Genoa.

Unfortunately the overnight train from Paris to Genoa that has operated for many years was withdrawn with effect from this summer and replaced by a much earlier train which arrives in Genoa just before 6.00 am.

It is, however, still possible to arrive in Genoa at a civilised hour by travelling Eurostar to Brussels and connecting with an overnight train from there.

Enquires at local travel agents revealed that virtually none now handle continental rail travel bookings. It seems that bookings have to either be made by telephone (a poor second to a travel agent) or a trip made to a specialist Travel Shop (in my case at Reading railway station).

I did undertake the journey to the Reading Travel Shop and, because I did not have complete confidence in what I had been told (they were, in fact, correct!), subsequently telephoned the Eurostar office at Waterloo. The position is that bookings on Eurostar cannot be made before 83 days preceding the date of travel and couchette bookings are not permitted until 60 days in advance.

Because I wanted to get the booking secured, much to my disappointment I booked a flight from London to Genoa. This was arranged by a local travel agent in less than ten minutes!

The railways need to realise they are in direct competition with the airlines. The advance booking arrangements must be improved otherwise they will continue to lose a large segment of their would-be trade to the airlines.

P R Frances, 119 Chilton Way, Hungerford, Berkshire RG17 0JF

Figure it out

Your article The Trojan Horse in the July issue of Railwatch is spot on. Bus substitution of rail services doesn't really work, and if the long-term objective is to get more car drivers on to public transport, then relying on buses is like swimming against the tide.

Logically, why would someone who has the convenience of their own road transport, choose to use a slower form of road transport that is less convenient?

This is borne out by official transport statistics showing that, in the 25 years since 1970, bus use has declined from an average of 1100 km/person/year to less than 700 km, while car ownership has increased from 170 cars/1000 people to 353. Statistical analysis shows a very strong correlation between these two sets of data, so there is every reason to expect that bus use will decline further as the car population increases.

Buses do have a role in the urban environment where they can have a competitive advantage over cars when traffic restrictions are in place. But asking buses to substitute for trains on longer journeys is a non starter against the car. Interestingly, despite the Beeching cuts and the lack of investment in rail compared to roads, BR and London Underground have managed to maintain traffic levels at about 700 km/person/year over a very long period despite the growth in car ownership.

Although this level of rail use is low compared to the European average, it nevertheless shows the strong resilience and market differentiation of rail travel, not shared by buses! There is a powerful message here. As you say, people like trains and will not be happy with the inferior (bus) product.

If it is true that Stagecoach is deliberately targeting rail competitively or obstructing the development of new services, it is guilty of damaging the environmentally necessary cause of greater public transport use.

If you want people to leave their cars at home, rail is the best alternative, as the statistics prove.

Hugh Walker 123 Rose Street Dunfermline Fife KY12 0QT

Cyclists defended

I was very disappointed to see the letter from J P Randall condemning cyclists and calling for no mention of this form of transport in future editions of Railwatch.

For me, the big issue is not so much to promote trains for their own sake, but to promote a balanced transport policy that will result in reduced numbers of cars on our congested and dangerous roads.

Obviously, rail has a huge part to play in this, but not alone. All forms of transport are relevant - trains, buses, cycles, taxis, pedestrians . . . and even cars, in their proper place.

The job of RDS is to promote the part that rail must play in an integrated transport policy, but not in isolation. It must and does recognise the whole.

Obviously, Railwatch as the mouthpiece of RDS should concentrate on rail, but it would be blinkered in the extreme to ignore other modes of transport and how they complement each other. In my view, Railwatch has got the balance right in its reference to other forms of transport.

Let us seek a quieter, cleaner and less congested environment where people will not want to drive, but will favour the alternatives. And so, let us embrace all the alternatives where they will help lead to this result. Incidentally, I am a cyclist and I too condemn dangerous and discourteous cycling. The fact that a minority do cycle in this way is no reason to condemn cyclists as a whole.

Julian Langston, 4 Lloyd Avenue, Llandaff, Cardiff CF5 2BX

Just in time

We need to develop an efficient rail system for all types of freight traffic and leave the roads for light local use.

This requires a network of local freight facilities with private and public sidings or handling centres giving a maximum collection/delivery distance of 3-4 miles using small environmentally friendly vehicles. Simple low cost facilities could transfer goods to and from trains with efficient marshalling facilities to expedite transits and give good equipment utilisation.

If piggyback operation is desired, small lorries would fit the existing loading guage as well as local roads.

A well-run railway is suited to just-in-time deliveries as the timetable enables train arrival times to be predicted accurately. It is fuel efficient and as traffic can move in one man-operated trains, carrying many lorryloads would be cheaper to use.

Automatic couplers and mechanised marshalling yards allow safe expeditious and non-labour intensive sorting of wagons while technology exists for the driverless movement of trains or individual wagons. Although yards have often been sold for alien purposes many were converted to car parks and could resume their former role.

It should also normally be possible to manage with one siding or where only light goods are handled or at quiet times to unload direct from the running lines on to platforms with pallets and trolleys.

Jonathan Dalton, 2 Regency Court, Enys Road, Eastbourne, Sussex

Railwatch attacked

I agree with John Turvill concerning Railwatch's downbeat attitude towards rail modernisation. I am sick to death of the continual whingeing. Have we got such short memories?

Remember the old BR management which discarded vast amounts of freight and let the track and signalling deteriorate on most secondary routes, particularly freight-only lines, and also the snide way it closed lines. Money that should have been used for refurbishment was paid instead to the never-ending army of managers and bureaucrats who decimated a large section of the rail system. Beeching would have been proud of them. The "Not me Guv, don't blame me" attitude of some of these ex-managers really infuriates me.

Norman Liszewski, l09 Burton Road, Woodville, Swadlincote, Derbyshire DEl1 73W

King's Cross porters

What do other members think about the portering at London Kings Cross? Personally I think to charge travellers a fee of £2 is nothing short of scandalous - it should all be "part of the job". Most people arriving at a London terminus with an armful of luggage have travelled many a mile to get there, and paid a considerable sum already.

Sadly it seems that getting more money out of existing customers is often preferable to attracting new rail users. Hence the need for bodies like the RDS, which genuinely want to boost our railways.

Tim Mickleburgh, 101 Scartho Road, Grimsby, Lincolnshire

Be positive

I write in support of John Turvill (Platform, issue 68). Yes, I agree, there is a danger that RDS might be seen as a backward looking, rather cranky refuge for "trainspotting types" thus putting a brake on future expansion and influence. Like it or not, we live in a highly capitalist world nowadays, and have no choice but to work within that framework.

So, as Mr Turvill suggests, let us take a positive and supportive stance towards the new railway operators, and look at the future in terms of a railway that is not only expanding, but also efficient and cost-effective. Then, as Mr Turvill says, RDS could find itself becoming more popular in membership terms, and more influential in high places.

David Smith, Bletchley, Bucks (address withheld at writer's request)

Frozen assets

I would like to comment on your article Frozen Assets by Lee Davies if I may. It is only recently that TransRail or EW&S, as it is now known, has reintroduced a freight service on the far north of Scotland line; I find it hard to believe that the fridge-freezer company is still finding it difficult to move their products south.

However, it has been brought to my attention that the lady in question has decided to build her own private sidings at Georgemas Junction; should this be the case I would like to take my hat off to her; what faith she must have in Railfreight.

J D Spinks, 17 Glenbank Close, Walton, Liverpool L9 2BR

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