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Railwatch 087 - March 2001

Rayner's Review

Run, Railtrack, run!

"Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Prescott?"

The wartime song can be adapted to apply to the deputy prime minister who is responsible for both transport and the environment.

He may think his green credentials are marvellous but as far as I can see all this Government and the Strategic Rail Authority are doing is recycling ideas, ideas that emerged long ago and were better expressed in their original form.

The Government is examining a plan for a network of tunnels buried beneath the Tube as part of a regional metro to beat overcrowding, trumpet civil servants and the SRA.

How stupid do they think we are? CrossRail was a British Rail idea, from Network SouthEast to be precise, and the other route now referred to is basically London Transport's original Chelsea-Hackney plan.

Both date from the late 1980s and early 1990s and the SRA is trying to sell them as ideas for 2010 and beyond!

The only tunnel missing from the list, and we might as well throw it in, was suggested even earlier - that was a plan to link the West Coast main line with the Brighton line via a tunnel between Euston and Victoria.

I liked the expression "buried beneath the Tube". From what I can see unless the Government listens to Bob Kiley and London Mayor Ken Livingstone, it will soon be doing the next best thing to burying the Tube itself.

All the "spin doctor" rubbish from SRA and Government departments makes us forget just how bad Railtrack is at what it is supposed to be doing, maintaining the network. Despite blustering and threats from the Government, I suspect Railtrack is going to given another £1billion.

If that is not annoying enough, it is even worse watching Lord Macdonald agreeing with Bernard Jenkins, the Tory transport spokesman who in my view, speaks unbelievable rubbish about both past and present railway matters.

Again we must not forget who caused the present disastrous situation in the first place. The Conservative government rushed through a flawed form of privatisation. I knew it would be bad but it is much worse than even I imagined.

We in RDS need to have a radical plan and not waste time talking to ATOC, Railtrack, the SRA and the Government so we have something constructive to put forward to these people.

They certainly seem to have nothing constructive to put to us. One of the radical questions we have to ask ourselves is: Should we "take back the tracks" as the unions wish?

But isn't the patient too ill for further surgery? The Government should stop thinking about the general election and make the existing players do what they are supposed to do.

For a start, let Rail Regulator Tom Winsor regulate. To me, he seems the only person not obsessed with spin.

In any event why is there all this emphasis on London and the south east? What about the state of the infrastructure in the north west? What sort of a mess are they making of the services to and from South Wales via Craven Arms?

Regulation of trains, minimising delay, recessing freights for expresses, getting Thomas the Tank engine into the loop to let Gordon the big engine come past, all that traditional railway knowledge has been forgotten.

They almost congratulate themselves today when they get the London-Manchester down to three hours.

I'd have had something to say to engineers and ground-level operators if only half of what I see as I ride the trains today had happened when my name was on the bottom of the timetable.

Peter Rayner is a former BR operations and safety officer and is now RDS safety adviser.

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