The plight of public transport users, the main group on behalf of which we speak, has been consistently ignored over the last few weeks.
Railtrack's neglect of the safety of its track cost 4 lives at Hatfield in the year or so since the defect was first discovered.
In order to avoid any chance of a repeat, extensive speed restrictions have been imposed which have crippled much of the rail network. The overloading of enquiry lines mean that people have had difficulty finding out what was running and how long journeys were taking, and even if they did they would probably find that their trains weren't running according to the emergency timetable. People wishing to make cross-country journeys involving connections (perhaps with buses) might have to allow hours on top of their normal journey time.
Not surprisingly, many would have turned to their cars which at the best of times account for two Hatfields every day. This could have led to a net loss of lives without even showing up as more than a blip in the casualty statistics. It also jammed the roads. This would also have affected those non-motorists who decided to turn to coaches -- even assuming they could get seats on the coach even with the extra demand.
Then came the floods which affected both rail and road travel in many regions of the country. Fortunately for us East Anglia was largely spared. But we were told that thanks to global warming, floods and other severe weather events are likely to become regular events in future, and next time we might not be so lucky. (Other possible causes of floods has been the raiding of flood plains by developers, as they have sought to cater for the flight from the cities induced by increasing car ownership and usage; and more intensive agriculture for which one of the motive forces has been the dominance of the supermarket chains who have inflicted so many out of town car-based superstores on us.)
This, however, was not used as ammunition by the Government to move away from the ``great car economy'' which is the main contributory factor to global warming. Instead its recent budget statement offered numerous concessions to motorists, as well as to the hauliers who precipitated September's fuel crisis -- despite an opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (and mentioned deep in the Cambridge Evening News of Sat 28 Oct) which said that people would prefer the money to be directed to reducing public transport fares.
Far from being reduced, public transport fares have consistently rocketed. In the last 25 years, during which motoring costs have remained broadly stable as compared with other prices, rail fares have increased by 53% and bus fares by a whopping 87%. This very week Stagecoach Cambus increased its fares -- we have estimated this as the equivalent of 8p on a litre of petrol.
Passengers who are delayed by Railtrack's speed restrictions will not get the usual Passenger Charter compensation: an emergency timetable has been imposed and only delays on top of that will be eligible. On top of this, passengers may find themselves paying several times the normal fare if they have to leave early to make an appointment and as a result find themselves in the peak period; or if the operator has decided to withdraw cheap book-ahead APEX fares as a result of the unreliability of the timetable. Railtrack will be spending a lot on track repairs, but this is money it would have had to spend anyway, so its shareholders have been let completely off the hook.
Railtrack cannot be blamed for the floods. But this does not excuse those train operators who, according to reports we have heard, abandoned their passengers in mid journey -- as were many passengers on the West Coast Main Line when Railtrack closed it without notice for track inspections. And the floods strengthen the case for a vigorous programme of reopening lines to provide alternative routes for when some lines are out of action. For example, York is the sole link between North-East England and most of the rest of the country (including our region) so how many rail journeys would have been facilitated had the old line between Harrogate and Northallerton, serving the City of Ripon, been available? Our own region will be totally cut off if Peterborough gets flooded at some time in the future, so let's get on with the East-West Rail Link and the reopening of the March (or Kings Lynn) to Spalding line. (The former would also have provided an alternative route for East Coast Main Line trains to avoid Hatfield.)
Let us have a network of out of town interchanges -- not only to allow people from rural areas to get around without having to go into town (which is the argument we have been using for our proposed interchange at Duxford) but also to substitute for local stations when they get flooded. If people from suburbs, villages and neighbouring towns can't get into the town centre because it's flooded they need alternative interchange points to access the inter-urban network.
Here is a summary of some measures which would help to put public transport on a firm footing.
1. An immediate across the board 20% cut to rail fares, which would allow people to get their Passenger Charter refunds without overwhelming train operators with demands. This should be paid for by Railtrack. (I would hope that public pressure would lead to a continuation of such a reduction even when the track was back to normal.)
2. Operators should be required to loosen their peak travel restrictions so that people with off-peak tickets can get to their destinations at the same time as normal. Again, this should be paid for by Railtrack. If this leads to overcrowding of trains, that's better than jams on motorways which are the alternative.
3. Operators should be required to provide their normal quota of APEX tickets. If trains can't be run as scheduled at the time of booking then passengers should be transferred to other trains or offered a full refund.
4. Under no circumstances should operators be allowed to abandon their passengers at points other than their point of origin (in which case a full refund should be available, plus compensation if it's the fault of the operator or Railtrack).
5. If Railtrack can't afford to pay all the compensations listed above, then this would provide an opportunity for the Government to return it to public control. According to opinion polls this would be popular.
6. While the highest possible safety levels should be the goal, it is better to provide a less safe system than something which doesn't provide for people's needs at all. (This affects not only rail travel but also inter-urban bus travel, where driving hours regulations need to be reorganised to make it easier to provide an adequate level of service.)
7. The Government should discourage higher car ownership as well as usage. In conditions of emergency an excess of cars sabotages the transport network.
8. We need a vigorous programme of reopening rail lines, creating new bus links, and opening new interchanges. In normal times they will increase the choice available to public transport users -- but in emergencies they may make all the difference to whether people can travel or not (or leave their cars at home).
9. All future road projects should have a goal of providing new opportunities for safeguarding bus movements in times of emergency.
10. There should be a rolling programme of rail electrification to reduce our dependence on oil.
11. The Government should take powers to redirect rail and bus services in times of emergency (and permanently?) so that people can still make interchange even when a nodal point is inaccessible.
Our AGM is set for 2.30 on Sat 2 Dec 2000 at 1 Fitzroy Lane, Cambridge, near the Grafton Centre. Access from the bus station by walking across Christs Pieces and New Square to Fitzroy Street, then left just before the Grafton Centre, then left again and upstairs. Details of the agenda are enclosed separately.
At our last meeting a few changes were made to our constitution, none of them of major importance:
(a) In clause 1, reference was made to the possibility of a name change (but see below).
(b) In clause 3, representation of Transport 2000 Ltd, as well as of our group, was made an expellable offence,
(c) In clause 4, ``Minutes Secretary'' was replaced by ``Secretary'', but the amendment to replace ``Chair'' by ``Chairman'' was not carried.
(d) In clause 5, the items in the agenda for an AGM were reordered in accordance with the order they would actually be taken, and a new item was added -- the review of organisations to which we affiliate.
(e) Also in clause 5, it was agreed that 3 members could require the Committee to convene an EGM, and the quorum for a meeting was increased to the lesser of 5 and 10% of the membership.
Our current constitution, therefore, is as shown in our last newsletter (Sept 2000, no. 72) with the above changes. There will be an opportunity for further discussion of these changes at the AGM (item 7).
It was agreed that we were minded to change the name of our branch from ``Cambs & W Suffolk'' to ``Cambs & Peterborough'' in a change which would be simultaneous with the change of the national organisation from ``Transport 2000'' to ``Transport 2000+''. However, we have since been told that the national name change is not being pursued at the moment. Accordingly, we plan to recommend that the branch name should also stay as it is for the time being.
For those of you who have still not paid for 2000-1 a membership slip is enclosed. Please note that this will be the last reminder unless you state clearly your intention to remain a member and promise to let us have payment as soon as possible. (This is intended for groups which may have to seek the approval of their own committees.)
The most important current activities of our group are as follows:
Local Transport Plan. We will be submitting comments on Cambridgeshire County Council's Local Transport Plan to the Government Office for Eastern England.
We believe that the LTP as it stands gives too much weight to road building as a solution to the county's transport problems. We will be arguing the need for a coherent public transport strategy (it isn't just the Cambridge area that has the problems, and park & ride isn't the only solution), and suggesting that some of the road schemes will be positively damaging as they stand (especially the Papworth By-pass, which will make the A1198 and A428 into an ``Overspill A14'', and the Duxford A505 ``safety scheme'', which will cut across bus services in the area).
Cambridgeshire Transport Forum. We will be represented at the invitation meeting on 29 Nov. The main theme of the meeting is expected to be buses. We hope to update our own bus strategy in due course.
A14.The consultation options for the Cambridge-Huntingdon Multi-Modal Study are expected to be released towards the end of November. We hope to do a feature on them in our next newsletter and will be arguing for the highest possible weight to be given to public transport.
A428.We have worked out a draft for a scheme for a connectional network based on the A428 corridor between Cambridge and Northampton. Similar schemes elsewhere in the country, including Lincolnshire County Council's ``Connect 6'' network based on the Lincoln-Skegness corridor, have been funded through the Government's Rural Bus Challenge fund (see Newsletter 66). The need for better coordination on this corridor is becoming more and more urgent (see later in newsletter).
Cambridge Inter-Urban Quality Partnership. The new administration of Cambridge City Council has put bus improvements high on its agenda (and improvements to late evening buses on route 5 between Kings Hedges and Fulbourn are expected soon). We are hoping to compile a document listing the deficiencies regarding inter-urban travel from Cambridge, both by rail and bus, and to ask the City Council to take the initiative in setting up a Quality Partnership to tackle these.
Public Inquiries. We are planning to give evidence at three forthcoming public inquiries. One relates to the proposed distribution centre at Alconbury, and is currently expected to start in May 2001. Our attitude to this is that it provides a great opportunity to set up an integrated network both for passengers and freight, but more ``joined up thinking'' will be needed if this opportunity is to be realised. Then there is the proposal for a motorway service area at Duxford: we will be opposing that on traffic and amenity grounds, arguing for the need for a multi-modal transport interchange on the site, and trying to see if we can use the Inquiry to head off the threat to bus route 103 which makes a movement which the A505 ``safety scheme'' will ban. The third is the plan for major housing development at Ramsey; we will be arguing for developer funded public transport improvements, including a new station which could also serve the Alconbury development, as a precondition.
General Consultations. Consultations currently under way include the proposal for bus layover provision at Midsummer Common and Parkers Piece; the future of some of the pedestrianised areas of the historic centre of Cambridge; and the future of Cambridge's Northern Fringe.
Stansted Airport. In cooperation with the Transport 2000 Essex representative, we are hoping to make representations to the Stansted Airport Surface Access Forum for better bus and rail links to the airport, including those which will help it fulfil a role as a regional transport interchange not just for air passengers. In particular we are hoping to use it as a vehicle to promote our proposals for a transport interchange at Duxford (see above) or possibly Stump Cross. (In the same area, we would also like to see an interchange at Four Went Ways.)
Bus information. In its White Paper the Government announced an initiative to improve public transport information, including a national telephone line (which has turned out to be 0870 608 2608). Unfortunately this seems to have been taken as a signal by some local authorities and operators to run down their own information systems. In particular much of the bus industry has withdrawn sponsorship for the Great Britain Bus Timetable and the latest issue (Nov 2000) may well be the last.
Most local authorities in our region, and many elsewhere, have reduced the quality of their own printed information in the last few years: for example Cambridgeshire abolished its ``Travel Times'' monthly newsletter, which we used to distribute to our members, and has since sharply reduced the frequency with which it updates its area booklets. Also it didn't produce a county map this year.
We would like to draw attention to the following improvements:
Cambridge-Peterborough: Improved Sunday morning trains -- though National Express still offers a much earlier arrival.
X30/130: This route (Cambridge-St Neots/Bedford) has been rerouted ``until further notice'' via Victoria Avenue, serving all stops en route, due to roadworks on the Fen Causeway route. We will be arguing for the change to be made permanent. Our A428 proposals (see above) also call for the route to be extended to Cambridge Railway station (plus other route changes). There have also been timetable changes for those journeys that interwork with the X5. In particular the 06.35 ex Cambridge (Mon-Fri) now starts 06.30 -- good news for those wishing to connect into the 07.05 from St Neots to Peterborough (X46), the 07.05 St Neots to Bedford via Kimbolton (152), and the 07.40 Bedford to Northampton (X2).
But there is more bad news:
38: This commuter service from Linton, Haverhill and Saffron Walden to London has been withdrawn due to the insolvency of the current operator. This has happened just at the time when rail/bus connections had become hopelessly unreliable!
X5: This has been retimed to improve timekeeping, but at the cost of breaking connections at Bedford for Northampton (X2), Kettering (X52) and Luton (X1). Sunday times are mostly unchanged, though.
X14: This little known Cambs CC supported service from Huntingdon to the Science Park via Fen Drayton seems to have been quietly taken off. Maybe if it had been better publicised more people might have used it. We shall continue to press for decent journey to work facilities at the Science Park, and for the County Council to realise that, as existing commuters on journey to work routes are likely to be using cars, they need time to attract custom from new employees unless the employer acts to persuade people who now drive to work to switch to the bus.
Upwell area: The 360 Wisbech-Christchurch and 365 Wisbech-Downham Market -- particularly the latter -- have been cut so that a single vehicle can now operate both routes. The new route number is 60. Note that Downham Market, the only railhead for the area, now has just 2 journeys which don't connect particularly well with the trains (when they are running normally) and don't allow enough time for travelling further afield anyway.
Last chances: In our last newsletter we suggested that it might be a ``last chance'' to use the chairlift to climb the Cairngorms. However the funicular railway, which will be barred to ramblers, will not be opening till autumn 2001, so there should be a full summer season next year. We hope that the connecting bus from Aviemore will be running again.
Nearer to home, there is another ``last chance'' -- to see the components of the unique timber circle dubbed ``Seahenge'' which was found at Holme next the Sea, and for which the preferred option seems to be to bury them where nobody will be able to see them. The timbers are currently at the museum at Flag Fen, near Peterborough. (A book about them is on sale there.) As stated in the last newsletter, the new access to Flag Fen from the riverside is now open; the ``old'' access, used by the very limited bus service, is also open but may be shutting around March 20001. We have asked about the future of the bus service. The timings are not very suitable for using the bus both ways, so we advise visitors to go by bus and walk back. Buses, operated by Cavalier, leave Peterborough bus station (or, in 2001, the temporary site which will take over) at 10.20 and 12.20 on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and 11.02 on Sundays.
Action Line: Write to your MP, to Government ministers, local councillors and anyone else you can think of about:
(a) The need to get a fair deal for rail and bus users to counter the fuel tax cuts given to motorists, especially in the wake of Hatfield and the floods; and
(b) The need to provide proper public transport information and not just make everyone rely on a telephone line.
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