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Railwatch 069 - October 1996

Rail to the rescue

Rail rode to the rescue when children missed a day-out because of a row over a road coach.

Parents and staff refused to let children make the trip when they saw the coach which arrived at Mayfield School, Cambridge. The 70 children had to spend the day behind their desks when they should have been at a butterfly farm.

Luckily staff at West Anglia Great Northern spotted the report in a local paper and organised a first-class trip for Mayfield children. "We thought it was a real shame they did not have their chance to go on their day trip," said WAGN's Caroline Gurney. "We decided to do something to make up for their disappointment."

The children enjoyed an all-expenses paid trip to King's Lynn as guests of WAGN.

The school's head of early years Vanessa Burgoyne said the children had a picnic in a King's Lynn park. "It was a lovely, lovely day," she said.

Sadly this was an exception. Almost invariably when schools go on trips, they go by unsuitable road transport. Teachers and parents should be more aware of the safety statistics and try to ensure that children go by the safest and most environmentally acceptable means of transport - rail. Rail companies should also address the problem of cost. They have vast numbers of empty seats available on off-peak services. They could be made accessible to schools at minimal cost. For instance, many of South Eastern's trains from London to the Kent coast run virtually empty immediately after the morning peak.

Many children these days do not experience train travel with their car-loving parents. Once they experience the joys of train travel, they might even persuade their own parents to change their travel habits. They will certainly be more likely to travel by train themselves.

In June South Wales and the West reversed its earlier decision to price children off trains to Torquay. Thank goodness! Unfortunately the damage has been done. Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Richard Younger-Ross said: "Some parents organised their own coach to take their children to school from the new year. I cannot see many of them now going back to the train service."

Of course, the cost of leasing extra rail vehicles and Railtrack's charges make it difficult for train operators trying to cope with ballooning demand. It is reported that Railtrack charges £170,000 per year to add one coach to the rail system merely in track access charges. What a gift for the road coach operators. The cost of achieving a shift from road to rail under these arrangement is impossible.

This contradiction was identified by Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary Clare Short. Perhaps that was why the Labour heirarchy moved her. They thought she might actually do something to correct such a stupid set-up.

Meanwhile the Government is being advised to change track by the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development. It suggests setting national targets for reducing traffic growth and moving investment cash from road to public transport.

But of course it is easier for politicians to mouth platitudes than to do something constructive.

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