Memorandum by Cambridge Heath and London
Fields Rail Users Group (TYP 22)
The general situation on the railways is worse
now than it was in 1997, the year when the Labour government came
to power, and worse than when the 10 Year Plan was announced.
The situation has also changed since the publication of the plan
with Railtrack in administration and many rail projects shelved.
The rail industry in general has been committed by public changes
of policy to significant long-term safety expenditure which will
have only a marginal impact on increasing use of the network and
may inhibit development of services on main lines, as well as
provision of new or upgraded services on secondary lines.
With 30 per cent more people travelling by rail,
the network has not expanded to cope, with the exception of the
Channel Tunnel rail link and the Birmingham Proof House junction
improvements. Both Railtrack and the train operators have made
experienced staff redundant and then blamed staff shortages for
a failure to run trains or to provide engineering improvements.
Most rail reopening schemeseven those that are clearly
good value for moneyhave been stalled because of a failure
of the various parties to agree and the rail companies to see
any financial advantage. Local authorities find it difficult to
deal with both Railtrack and the Strategic Rail Authority. Targets
need to be set to bring rail services to towns of certain size
over a set period. Targets for the reopening of a fixed number
of rail lines per year should be set.
The Government's multi-modal studies have had
an appalling effect on the 10 Year Plan. They are providing a
cover for renewed road building and are failing to take proper
consideration of rail. Railtrack and train operating companies
are failing to provide evidence to the studies of how rail can
expand to prevent the need for new roads both for freight and
passengers. Both Railtrack and the train operatorsand even
the Strategic Rail Authorityhave undermined these arguments
when they are put by voluntary and campaigning groups. For instance,
the mothballed Cambridge-St Ives rail line should obviously be
a key part of the rail network, providing local, regional and
long-distance services but Railtrack has colluded in attempts
to turn it into a busway which will have little impact on solving
the region's long-standing transport problems. The multimodal
studies should be suspended until ways can be devised of presenting
the alternatives to road building.
The 10 Year Plan's aim of reducing road congestion
does not seem directed at rail managers. If they have a role,
it is surely to make it easier for passengers to use trains. Many
however are interested only in what happens on their train company's
patch. Rail network maps were deliberately removed from many trains
in the years after 1994 to be replaced by maps showing only that
company's lines. The 10 Year Plan should be refocused on people
who need to travel. Targets should be set to reduce congestion
on rail, rather than road. There has been virtually no attempt
to make it easier for people trying to gain access to rail stations.
Buses still do not generally call at rail stations. There has
been virtually no attempt to improve conditions for walkers trying
to get to trains or buses.
Often travellers are not given the necessary
information to travel and to make changes between modes. Bus timetables
are a rarity, even at rail stations. Britain's busiest rail stationClapham
Junctiondoes not have an integrated information system.
Notices are out of date and misleading. At one of Britain's biggest
stationsLondon Waterlooa good train information
system has been replaced by an inferior one. Targets should be
set so that every station has a time-defined programme of getting
its information provisions right.
In many areas, there is more skill and expertiseand
certainly visionin the many rail user groups and the voluntary
rail lobby than among rail managers and companies who are not
motivated to increase rail's share of the market. Many MPs are
more enthusiastic about rail's potential than rail managers. Career
rail staff, and that means, people who deal with the public too,
should be encouraged to remain in the industry. Often they want
to leave. The industry should be set targets to increase the numbers
of skilled staff available and to show how their training programmes
are to achieve this.
The Strategic Rail Authority has failed to give
consistent and sensible guidance on increasing capacity, providing
late night, early morning or bank holiday services, electrification,
fare levels or the importance of improving secondary lines to
feed into main lines. Several secondary line services are a disgrace,
with widespread cancellations and bus substitution. The SRA must
be much more proactive and must be given more public funds to
implement schemes like the East-West rail link which can then
be handed over to Railtrack and the train operators to run, to
strictly defined standards. The SRA should set a whole series
of standards for instance facilities at de-staffed stations
and minimum standards on trains. Minimum service standards of
train frequency should be set, every 10 or 15 minutes for inner
suburban stations like Cambridge Heath and London Fields which
currently have only two trains an hour and no trains on Sunday.
And this is in a densely populated city area.
While European countries are building high-speed
rail lines, there has been a consistent attempt by Britain to
hide its head in the sand. The West Coast main line fiasco is
one result. Britain probably needs a new high-speed line to the
North West and Scotland. Other lines need to be upgraded for higher
speeds. Unless the Great Western main line and the Midland main
line are electrified, significant speed increases will not be
possible. The London-Brighton line is a ramshackle, overcrowded
operation with hour-long journey times. There is no reason why
trains should not provide a 30-minute journey time but that would
mean reopening the Uckfield-Lewes line so that some trains could
be diverted. A programme of high-speed line building should be
Rail managers have continued to block attempts
by cyclists to use bikes and trains as an alternative to the car.
This is particularly true in many holiday areas, like Wales and
western England, although in Scotland and the Anglia region, managers
have made significant efforts to tackle some of the problems.
Targets should be set to increase the provision of on-train space
Several of the train operating companies are
owned by bus companies which have lowered standards on rail to
match the inadequate service offered by many buses. The concept
of a premium inter-city service has been devalued with new trains
being brought into service that are less comfortable than their
predecessors. Minimum standards for inter-city, regional and local
trains should be agreed.
The importance of electrification to both passengers
and to efficient rail operation has not been recognised by Railtrack
and the train operators who have been consistent in trying to
avoid paying for such sensible long-term investment. The SRA has
acquiesced in this short-term financial approach. Targets for
a programme of electrification should be agreed, starting with
infill projects and small schemes like Walsall-Rugeley and Crewe-Kidsgrove.
The Midland and Great Western main lines should be completed in
the medium term.
The train companies have undermined the Network
Card so that it is much more expensive from 2002
for families to travel together in the South East area. There
has been a preoccupation with cheap tickets with many restrictions
while general fare levels have continued to increase. Targets
should be set to reduce the real level of fares (taking inflation
into account) so that they are returned to 1970, relative to motoring
costs, as a first step.
Many stations have become even more threatening
for rail users because of continued de-staffing. Standards should
be set so that stations can only be left unstaffed if proper alternative
arrangements, including the provision of CCTV and real-time train
information are made.