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  RAIL NEWS SNIPPETS   Issue 145 - 31 December 2004  
  News from the East Anglian Branch of Railfuture   Edited by Martin Thorne and Jerry Alderson  

A Happy New Year to all Snippets readers. It's been a turbulent year for the railways, but ended on a happy note with the announcement that passenger journeys have increased yet again: 1,050 million in 2004, the highest for 45 years when the rail network was twice as large as it is now, and across all types of journeys (regional up 7.8%, long distance up 4.1%, London and south-east up 2.6%).

Nick Dibben, Secretary East Anglia branch, has a new email address of nick.dibben@btinternet.com.

The Railfuture 2005 Re-openings Conference will be held in Wales, at the Welfare Hall in Barry on 2nd July. If all goes to plan this should be just after passenger services start on the Vale of Glamorgan line.

Railfuture members may wish to protest to the government about the apparently indefinite postponement of the East West Rail Link, as evidenced by the report on the Milton Keynes and South Midlands sub-regional spatial strategy published on 26th October. The 23rd December official deadline for comments has been passed, however, the Sustainable Communities Team can still be contacted at government Office for East Midlands, Belgrave Centre, Talbot Street, Nottingham, NG1 5GG, or e-mailed to scp.goem@go-regions.gsi.gov.uk. The minutes from the Milton Keynes and South Midlands Growth Area: Inter-Regional Board's meeting on 28 October 2004 are available at http://www.odpm.gov.uk/stellent/groups/odpm_communities/documents/page/odpm_comm_032997.hcsp.

Consultation has begun on a new Regional Spatial Strategy for the East of England Region. The deadline for comments is 16th March 2005. When finalised, Regional Spatial Strategies will replace not only extant Regional Planning Guidance published by the Deputy PM, but also the Structure Plans once prepared by the affected County Councils. The draft can be found on-line at http://www.eera.gov.uk/category.asp?cat=120.

On Thursday 15th March 2005 the Bedford-Bletchley Rail Users Association, who are credited with helping to save the passenger service on the Marston Vale line, will be holding their 25th anniversary AGM, exactly 25 years to the day since they were founded. The meeting is at St.John's Church Hall in Bedford (a few minutes walk from the new St.John's station) starting at 7pm.

The Bedfordshire Railway Transport Association is considering a possible venue for its 2005 conference in Biggleswade, which would be 2 minutes walk from the station. Details will be posted on http://www.brta.org.uk.

The March-Wisbech Bramley Line web-site has an online shop offering railway items: http://www.bramleyline.co.uk/html/online_shop.html.

Next meeting of the Bramley Line group is on 26th January 2005 at 7.30pm.

In late November, following the publication of the SRA's community railways strategy, an edition of BBC East's "The Politics Show" looked at the rail services in East Anglia. Jonathan Denby of 'one' was interviewed at West Runton station where the local Women's Institute tend to the station gardens. Ex-First Great Eastern boss Peter Northfield and Guy Dangerfield of the RPCEE were interviewed in the studio.


BRANCH MEETING

Forty people squeeze into Little St. Mary's Church Hall to hear Lord Berkeley speak
On Saturday 4th December around 40 people attended the Railfuture branch meeting where Lord Berkeley was special guest.

Some of the statistics he gave were:
* Rail freight traffic has grown 50% since privatisation
* Rail freight's market share compared with road has risen from 8.5% to over 11.5% in the same period
* By 2010, SRA estimate 50% of containers on railways will be 9' 6" high
* Freight trains are only responsible for 4.6% of delays to passenger trains
* £30-50m for gauge enhancement to Southampton to West Midlands but M1 J10-13 is £25.4m per mile
* There's a current shortage of 47,000 HGV drivers.


RAIL ROUTES

Preliminary survey work in progress for Stansted Airport rail enhancements
Stansted Airport's owner, BAA, has reserved £100m for preliminary consultancy examinations and preparation in readiness for its planning application. This includes a visual survey by Mott MacDonald into rail improvements needed if a second runway is built, necessary to accurately assess the potential environmental effects of railway enhancements.

Mott MacDonald staff will be carrying out non-intrusive surveys from publicly accessible areas, including road, footpaths and public rights of way, where rail improvements (such as a new loop, bypassing Sawbridgeworth and Bishop's Stortford, with a direct line from north of Harlow Mill) might be built. It is not clear whether initial surveys will look at a second spur line north to Cambridge, which would rejoin the main line south of Newport, or a second railway tunnel into the airport station.

New rival to Crossrail threatens to delay cross-London rail link for years
Superlink, a £13,200 million rival proposal for a London Crossrail scheme, was launched in December and immediately infuriated The Railway Forum amongst others from the railway industry and also the City of London, who fear putting the current proposals on hold to evaluate a new but less well developed scheme will result in several years of delay.

Superlink is a more ambitious railway across the capital than is currently envisaged, and will cost 25% more, but can run more trains to more destinations than Crossrail resulting in four times the passenger kilometres, thus generating 2.4 times the fare income of Crossrail (which has a £4,500 million funding gap) and would therefore need 13% less subsidy.

Superlink's advantage the ability to tie into the existing rail network extending the same east-west tunnel (that would link Paddington with the City and Canary Wharf) to the west and east, as well as to the north, to take in Stansted airport and Cambridge. It envisages 12-coach trains instead of Crosslink's 10-coach ones. Furthermore it could be built in stages.

The consortium behind Superlink is chaired by John Prideaux, former managing director of InterCity who also rescued the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and is backed by City finance house Babcock and Brown. Michael Schabas, founder of GB Railways is also involved.

To add further confusion, there's also a London Regional Metro scheme proposed. Web-sites describing all three passenger-only schemes are below.
Superlink: http://www.superlinklondon.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk
Superlink: http://www.londonregionalmetro.com
Crossrail: http://www.crossrail.co.uk.


RAIL FARES

Central Trains acknowledges disquiet over recent fare rises by introducing lower leisure fares
Regulated rail fares will increase by an average of 4% in January 2005. However, Central Trains increased its leisure fares significantly in recent months and it has now announced cheaper walk-on Saver return fares from Peterborough, valid from 0900 with effect from 2nd January:
* Peterborough to Leicester £14, with the pre-booked quota-controlled Central Value 7 fare being a mere £8
* Peterborough to Birmingham £24, with CV7 at just £13.

However, the bad news is that there will be an emergency timetable starting on 1st January due to the expiry of an agreement on rest day working by Central Trains' drivers. Some trains will be withdrawn for a few weeks including the 0607 Norwich to Birmingham and 1609 return.

New journey booking system introduced over Christmas holiday
A new £80 million national reservation system, which is overseen by the Association of Train Operating Companies was brought into use over Christmas Day and Boxing Day, replacing the 25-year-old booking system inherited from British Rail.


RAIL ENHANCEMENTS

Chiltern shows way ahead for funding rail enhancements
Whilst the Government and SRA claim there is no funding available for rail enhancements, even in the fast-growing region of East Anglia, Chiltern Railways who have the luxury of a 20-year franchise have found a way.

Carillion has been awarded an £80m contract for Chiltern Railways' Evergreen II project, which includes the construction of two new platforms at Marylebone station and additional signalling between Bicester and High Wycombe (27 miles), Princes Risborough and Aylesbury, and in the Neasden area. The new signals will reduce train headways, thus enabling more frequent services. Construction work is scheduled to start in summer 2005.

This project will see the first use of the Design Build Finance and Transfer (DBFT) process within the UK rail industry. It is funded by a bank facility provided by Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation Europe Limited. Once work is complete the line will be handed over to Network Rail, who will charge Chiltern higher track access charges from running more trains, which in turn would be offset by revenue from carrying extra passengers.

Whilst this is expected to be the first of several Special Purpose Vehicles, the project does still rely upon Chiltern receiving subsidy from the SRA.
News article: http://www.railwaypeople.com/rail-news-articles/laing-rail-secures-80million-investment-for-rail-industry-238.html.

Chiltern's plan for alternative London-Oxford route would help case for East West Rail Link
Chiltern Railway's proposal for a new curve Bicester to link its north-south route between Banbury and London Marylebone with the East-West rail link from Oxford to Bicester has been known about for some time. However, it received fresh publicity in Oxfordshire newspapers in late December as a way of avoiding road building and also making increased use of the lightly used Oxford-Bicester Town route.

The scheme, which is one of several suggestions submitted to the SRA, would need new track installed at the intersection between the two lines, and also investment to improve the track between Bicester and Oxford (also needed for fast Bedford-Oxford services) since current speed restrictions means that trains take 26 minutes for the 13-mile journey. It is seen as a way of staging the reopening of the line to Bletchley. However, even with upgraded track, Chiltern says a London-Oxford journey would take about 70 minutes compared to the 55 minutes for fast First Great Western services. Oxfordshire County Council is also supporting the plan. Rail development officer Adrian Saunders said: "We would welcome any increase in passenger services that would take traffic off the roads.

In another move that helps the EWRL, the line speed has been raised for 40mph to 60mph on the first section of the Bedford-Bletchley line: Bow Brickhill towards Fenny Stratford (westwards only). It is hoped that the Kempston Hardwick to Bedford stretch on this crucial East-West Link will be upgraded soon. Most temporary speed restrictions have been lifted and train punctuality has been good in the last two months of 2004.


RAIL LINE CLOSURES

Railfuture concerned about proposals to 'fast track' station and line closures
Currently all line and station closures must be initiated by TOCs except that the SRA can initiate closures whilst re-letting franchises. Any closure proposal is then assessed by the SRA and an 8-week consultation exercise is held. RPCs hear objections and then prepare a report on any hardship that would arise. The Sec. Of State makes the final decision. However, in the Railways Bill now before Parliament will allow railway lines and stations to be closed with much more ease than the current rules allow. For instance, the Secretary of State, Scottish Executive, Welsh Assembly, PTAs and TfL will have the power to initiate closures as well as the TOCs. Whilst there would be a consultation, there is no mention of public hearings and any consultation with rail users is to be through bodies "recognised by the Secretary of State". It is not clear who these bodies would be. Railfuture is alarmed by these changes and members have been encouraged to write to their MPs expressing these concerns.

The Department for Transport has tried to allay fears by saying the changes to the closure procedures in the draft Bill are because "small changes to stations have taken months to get approval and this cannot be a good thing" and are necessary owing to the "winding up of the Strategic Rail Authority, who have a key role in existing procedures, and the reform of the Rail Passengers Council." He claims that "All closure proposals will be subject a rigorous examination against the criteria laid out in Ministerial Guidelines and they will be subject to a wide ranging consultation exercise and in all events will need to be ratified by the Office of Rail Regulation."

Meanwhile, the SRA has expressed a wish to close Etruria station, which is just outside Stoke. The recommendation from the Rail Passengers Council is that closure is currently unacceptable and should only be part of a wider integrated transport review creating new travel opportunities in the area. Any final decision should await the findings of the North Staffordshire Integrated Transport Study.
Railfuture article: http://www.railfuture.org.uk/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=917
RPC announcement: http://www.railpassengers.org.uk/site/News/RPCPressReleases/2004_112404_01.


RAIL FRANCHISES

Great Northern franchise (combined with Thameslink) on track for April 2006 re-letting
On 17th December 2004 the Government formally invited 'Expressions of Interest' for the Thameslink/Great Northern franchises, which is planned to commence in April 2006 to will carry 75m passengers thus generating £275m per annum.

The potential nine-year franchise would only continue into years five and six if performance targets are met, and continuation for a further three years will be dependant upon the progress of Thameslink 2000. National Express and Go-Via are the only groups currently known to be bidding, and will have to express interest by 2nd February 2005, allowing the Government to announce Pre-Qualified Bidders during Spring 2005. These companies will be issued with Invitations to Tender in Summer 2005, and the preferred bidder(s) should be selected at the end of 2005, so that contracts can be signed in early 2006.

Whilst the franchise terms are likely to be similar to Greater Anglia's, the award process should be much more transparent. As a 'public authority' the SRA is covered by the Freedom of Information Act (as are the Rail Passenger' Committees, and the British Railways Board, though not TOCs or Network Rail) forcing the SRA to disclose more of the contents of bids.

Alistair Darling explained that rail operators who currently fail to meet punctuality targets will be penalised when bidding for new franchises: the pre-qualification process would attach a weighting of 60% to their "experience and past performance", with lesser attention paid to their plans for future investment. The extra importance attached to track records is expected to help GNER's bid (see below) more than WAGN (now exceeding 90% punctuality) and Thameslink.

Final bids for ECML inter-city franchise have now been submitted
Monday 6th December was the deadline for the four shortlisted bidders for the East Coast Inter City franchise, which is currently operated by GNER but being challenged by First Group, Danish Railways and a consortium comprising Stagecoach and Virgin.

According to an article in the Times on Saturday 4th December, both Virgin/Stagecoach and First are basing their bids on downgrading the catering offer from the current GNER standard, with First considering using the 'Travelling Chef' idea. The Times claimed that the catering is losing £10 million a year.

Richard Branson has claimed that if Virgin was awarded the franchise they would be able to save money by sharing marketing costs and that inter-city tickets would be valid on both East and West Coast Main Lines. Mr Branson has dismissed competition issues arguing that 90% of east cost travel is by road or air.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has referred First's bid for the franchise to the Competition Commission (CC), because it owns Hull Trains and operates the Scotrail and TransPennine Express franchises. However, Virgin's bid has not caused concern.

The CC is required to publish its report by 6th June 2005 and would like to hear from all interested parties, in writing, by 21ar January 2005. Address for submitting evidence is: The Inquiry Secretary (FirstGroup/ICEC), Competition Commission, Victoria House, Southampton Row, London WC1B 4AD; or e-mail Raewyn.Curran@competition-commission.gsi.gov.uk.


ST.IVES LINE

Guided bus public inquiry ends on time with just site visits remaining
At one point it looked like the public inquiry might overrun, but it finished on Thursday 2nd December, with Robin Purchas QC 220-minute closing speech describing Cambridgeshire County Council's plans for a "premier service" attracting nearly 30 per cent of its predicted 3,800 daily peak-hour passengers out of their cars after 10 years. His barrister colleague Greg Jones dealt with environmental issues claiming the vast concrete busway and maintenance track would not affect any nationally or internationally designated wildlife sites.

On the previous day major objectors gave closing speeches, which included complains that CCC had delivered lengthy rebuttals to their evidence too late for them to analyse them fully before they gave evidence. Speaking for CAST.IRON, Tim Phillips said "No doubt, this was designed to minimise proper scrutiny of these rebuttals and to obscure the many valid objections to the scheme." He also accused CCC's consultants of systematically exaggerating the costs of building and operating a heavy rail system, with costs being "fantasy figures" and costings inconsistent for similar work on different parts of the route. He also handed in a 3,858-signature petition supporting a rail reopening.

The "St.Ives et al" group (the Town Council, Railfuture and others) complained about the tone of some of the rebuttals, which "attempted to denigrate our witness rather than concentrate on facts and evidence" and reiterated support for rail. Save the Lakes expressed concern that ordinary people at the inquiry proved the council's facts and figures to be incorrect on so many occasions and pointing out problems they had not thought of.

The Inspector has stated that he will visit the guided bus systems in Leeds/Bradford and Essen, saying "I shall be going incognito and shall be seeking to experience the ride quality, speed, reliability, ease of use and the noise they make". It is not known if he will take up invitations by Parry People Mover (PPM) to visit the Chasewater Railway or that from Wensleydale - the country's first, and so far only, independent community railway.

Of the 2,741 objections (around 60 being duplicated or wrongly classified), only 100 withdrew their objection, despite CCC's encouragement to do so. Those backing down included; RSPB, English Nature, British Horse Society, Sustrans, Ramblers Association, Network Rail, English Heritage, Environment Agency and Cambridge Regional College.

A total of 1,002 documents were submitted to the 31-day inquiry, which was in session for 160 hours, and saw 11 witnesses for the applicant, with just 65 objectors presenting evidence. Among them was Railfuture member Clara Zilahi who said a restored railway could be used as a diversionary route during engineering work, citing a journey westwards during summer 2004 when buses replaced trains between Ely and Peterborough during engineering work: "If the Cambridge to Huntingdon line had been available, that bus journey would not have been necessary." She also said that conventional bus services were more flexible than a guided bus: "Unlike a conventional bus service, which can be introduced on an experimental basis and withdrawn if not used, residents on the guided bus route will be subject to an expensive white elephant."

In CGB goes ahead, it would become the UK's 6th guided busway, and 10th in the world, following the recent opening of Fastlink, the new name for the West Edinburgh Busways project. This is an 8km bus corridor linking the Gyle and Edinburgh Park to the city centre, which has 1.5km of two-lane dedicated guided busway, currently the longest section of continuous bus guideway in the UK.


RAIL SERVICES

ESTA welcomes improved Lowestoft-Ipswich/London services but has some concerns
According to a recent ESTA newsletter, the two-hourly direct Lowestoft-London services are warmly welcomed but the organisation has four concerns which they hope will be addressed in the foreseeable future:
* There is no 08.21 Saxmundham - Ipswich train on Saturdays
* There is no through service from London in the evening peak and a lengthy gap from 18.55 to 20.52 in departures from Ipswich
* Connections at Ipswich for Cambridge and Peterborough need to be improved
* Busy peak-hour trains from Lowestoft to Norwich and Norwich to Lowestoft are likely to need lengthening.

Railfuture East Anglia looks to promote use of Newmarket Station
Since 12th December, the newly timetabled hourly Ipswich-Cambridge service has ideal connections from Newmarket station to London King's Cross. Railfuture is hoping to encourage greater use of Newmarket station, which is less than 10 minutes walk from the town centre, hopefully in conjunction with MARPA.


STATIONS

Two new retail outlets at Cambridge station sees move of travel information desk
A superb new waiting room, with built-in AMT Coffee Kiosk, was opened by Anne Campbell MP and station manager Stuart Towler on 22nd December, according to the plaque. Adjacent to platform 4 at the end of the building, formerly a store room, it is ideal for passengers waiting for Norwich and Ipswich trains. The latter has seen a 45% increase in services since 12th December.

A new "Delice de France" French bread kiosk has opened in the former information desk just before platform entrance, becoming the 7th retail outlet at Cambridge station, which sees 5.5 million passengers per year.

The travel information desk has been moved into the former tourist information kiosk on platform 1, where it used to be until 1999. However, this means that passengers without tickets will need to pass a manual 'barrier' at the platform entrance in order to find out about train services!

The travel information desk, which is staffed from 7am-8pm daily, will provide information about train times, bus connections, tourist attractions and information for visitors.
'one' press release: http://www.onerailway.com/latestinformation/news/newsdisplay.asp?id=663.

Platform at Braintree station extended for 12-coach trains
In the 1960's the Braintree branch was proposed for closure, and at one stage had just single-coach trains. However, passenger numbers have grown by 75% since 1997 and the branch now carries 770,000 passengers a year, with 8-coach trains full at peak time.

In December, the station platform was lengthened to 12-coach lengths, just in time for the 12th December timetable change. The 07:27 from Braintree is one of the key services that now operates with extended trains, which has added 300 seats.


ROAD SAFETY

Most of East Anglia's roads have above-average accident rates
Most counties in East Anglia have an above average accident rate on the roads according to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, who have used figures from audit office data. National averages are 561 slight injuries (SI) and 79 killed or seriously injured (KSI) per 100,000 people. The figures for East Anglia are:
* Cambridgeshire: 575 SI, 94 KSI
* Norfolk.......: 417 SI, 89 KSI
* Hertfordshire.: 549 SI, 86 KSI
* Peterborough..: 664 SI, 83 KSI
* Essex.........: 468 SI, 83 KSI
* Bedfordshire..: 484 SI, 70 KSI
* Suffolk.......: 415 SI, 69 KSI


PRESERVED RAILWAYS

Budgen's option for station yard at Sheringham as lapsed and level crossing cost could be reduced
The Budgen's option on the station yard at Sheringham, owned by the North Norfolk Railway, has finally lapsed.

The railway has agreed to purchase Ottendorf Green from the District Council at a price of £5,000. This is the stretch of land from the current buffer stops to the road where the level crossing would, eventually, be built. It is intended that the new run round using that land will be operation prior to the 2005 main season.

The original Ove Arup report had estimated a cost of £4m to join the Bittern Line with the North Norfolk Railway by reinstating the level crossing across Sheringham’s Station Road. However, a new survey from RMS Consulting says the cost can be reduced to just £1m. This would avoid using fibre-optic signalling as the level crossing could be operated by train drivers and the NNR’s platforms could be altered to avoid the need for a new footbridge and lift.

A separate report has costed an extension of NNR's route from its current edge-of-town Holt terminus into the town itself for much less than the £3.5m previously estimated.

NENTA train tours to operate from North Walsham in 2005
The Mid-Norfolk Railway will not be visited by any of NENTA's excursions in 2005. Instead, two trips – the York and Beamish Explorer on 16th April and the Brighton and Buebell Invader on 9th July 9 – will start and finish at North Walsham. This will avoid the need for NENTA's TOC (Fragonset/Merlin or EWS) to obtain HMRI permission to operate onto the MNR's route.

In late November the MNR was visited by a Balfour Beatty tamper, where it has been undertaking driver training and line maintenance work during daylight hours. The tamper was stabled at Norwich to be available for main line operations. This was the second visit by one of the company's machines; the previous visit was on 8th August 2002.

Colne Valley Railway is up for sale as owners retire
According to Steam Railway magazine the Colne Valley Railway at Castle Heddingham near Stansted, is being offered for sale by its owners who are looking to retire. Volunteers on the railway have been given until the end of the year to raise a "seven-figure sum" to prevent the one-mile long line and all it assets being put up for sale.

Newspaper reports that Bramley Line has secured first mile of line from Network Rail
According to the weekly "Fenland Citizen" newspaper for Wednesday 17th December, the Wisbech-March "Bramley Line" has been successful in securing the lease from Network Rail of a one-mile section of the line between the Weasenham Lane level crossing and South Bridge Field in Wisbech for the purposes of practicing track maintenance skills, with a bar on operation of any rail vehicles. This has not been confirmed by the group themselves, although this was anticipated in a letter from NR via their local MP, Malcolm Moss: http://www.bramleyline.co.uk/html/oct-dec_2004.html.


WEB-SITES

Three into one for 'one' as web-sites merged
The West Anglia, Anglia and Great Eastern web-sites for 'one' have been merged together. All previous URLs now go to http://www.onerailway.com. The Stansted Express web-site remains separate at: http://www.stanstedexpress.co.uk.

New web-site for the Marks Tey to Sudbury "Gainsborough" line
The recently created web-site http://www.sudbury-branchline.co.uk is independent of any Train Operating Company, Network Rail, or the Community Rail Partnership, and is set-up to provide general news and information about the Marks Tey - Sudbury line. It includes a FAQ about the branch with a page devoted to technical aspects, for instance "single track on the branch is currently made up of a mixture of jointed and continuous welded rail, the older jointed sections are planned to be replaced in the summer of 2005, requiring the line to be shut for approximately two weeks to allow for the work."

New Northern Rail franchise launches its web-site
Since 12th December http://www.northernrail.org has been the web-site for the new Northern franchise.

New web-site for bus users as National Federation of Bus Users is re-branded
Bus Users UK, formerly known as the National Federation of Bus Users (NFBU), is an independent group formed to give bus passengers a voice. It claims to have the ears of all the major bus companies and a lot of the smaller ones too, of their trade organisation, of the Government and local authorities. Like Railfuture, it is not aligned to any political party. Its web-site is http://www.bususers.org/index.html.

Wensleydale Railway re-launches its web-site
The Wensleydale Railway's http://www.wensleydalerailway.com web-site has been completely vamped to become more transport focused, showing the line relative to the rest of the network. It coincides with the opening of their fifth station: Finghall. The web-site includes punctuality and reliability figures since the railway began operating in July 2003. Reliability has been 100% for 6 out of 12 months with punctuality reaching 100% in May 2004 and above 99% between April and July 2004.

Web-site launched for Glasgow Airport Rail Link
Strathclyde Passenger Transport (SPT) has launched a web-site for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link at http://www.spt.co.uk/garl. It claims that a direct rail link would be the fastest and most convenient way to travel between the city centre and the airport. Currently most passengers use the M8 to get to the airport.

 

 
 
 


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  Railfuture  is the campaigning name for
the Railway Development Society Ltd (RDS)
 

 
 
 

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31-DEC-2004