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DORNOCH RAIL LINK ACTION GROUP - Winter newsletter - Part One

16th January 2013

Photograph of DORNOCH RAIL LINK ACTION GROUP - Winter newsletter - Part One

DORNOCH RAIL LINK ACTION GROUP - Winter newsletter from Mark Norton
Hon. President Revd. Alistair Roy BD

Bulletin for the Dornoch Rail Link Action Group Winter 2012/13

Dear members of the Dornoch Rail Link Action Group,
1. General situation/ Olympics special
Something wonderful has happened this year the railways have managed to make a majorly positive contribution to the smooth running of two major international sporting
events Britain was proud to host this year, and earn some well-deserved praise in the
process. I refer to the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in 2012, of course.
Major preparations were done for the smooth and safe transference by rail of both competitors and spectators to and from the Olympic venue at Stratford, East London. The preparations for congestion avoidance worked as well, with none of the fears of passenger rail service meltdown in London being realised. The rail system, and indeed Britain as a whole, deserves praise for the excellent execution of the both events. This is quite apart from the fact that we came third place (behind the U.S. and China) in the medal table, ahead of everyone else including all of Europe.

2. Compared to the previous venues for the Olympic Games, (Sydney, Athens, Beijing), London does have a comprehensive rail network. This needs to be made to work well, and that is quite another achievement. Serious effort was put in to this effect, and it showed. Special mention should be made of the Greater Anglia franchise, the Javelin services (i.e. the 140 mph Class 395 domestic services which use the High Speed 1 line from London St. Pancras to Stratford, Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent), the Tube and London Overground services.

3. Substantial and prodigious efforts were made to ensure a high level of reliability for the Olympic services. There were reserve diesel locos and extra teams of fitters and other maintenance personnel to make sure the trains kept running, even under heavy usage from Olympic crowds. Moreover, many volunteers were on hand to help manage the crowds during the Games, and some of these were designated as speakers of certain foreign languages to help overseas visitors find their way to and from the games venues. Well done to the UK railways!

4. Aside from the Olympic Games, the rail modernisation continues in England particularly, although due mention should be made in Scotland of the Highland Main Line improvements, the somewhat curtailed Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Scheme (EGIP) and the recently announced high speed line between Edinburgh and Glasgow more on that later. The electrification for both the Great Western and Midland Main Line is still scheduled to continue. I therefore recommend that anyone wishing to experience the Great Western Line in its original form, before the catenary goes up, should do so shortly as the electrification works are due to start in 2013-14. Once the catenary for the overhead electric lines is up, the railway will change forever. We will have new, faster IEP electric trains running on this Line once the electrification is complete, but it will not look the same to those used to travelling on the Line in steam or diesel days of yore.

5. The IEP (Inter-city Express programme, or HST replacement) saga is not without controversy, however, as there are concerns about the costs and specifications of the scheme. It is planned to have 8-carriage trains in service n the Great Western line in the mid teens, followed by a mixture of 5-carriage and 9-10 carriage trains on s there has been a recent proposal to do a major upgrade of the current IC-225 trains on the London Edinburgh services, this could provide an interesting and possibly more cost - effective option than buying brand new trains which do have something to live up to lets be honest.

6. Also, in addition to the IEP saga, since our last Newsletter, there has been a serious debacle on the West Coast franchise as admitted by the Department for Transport. The new franchise deal had been awarded to First Group, with assurances that due process was followed and all figures were correct despite protests and threats from Virgin Trains Ltd., the current franchise holder for the West Coast services. Almost the next day (this was in the autumn 2012) Patrick McLoughlin MP, our new Secretary of State for Transport, announced that the franchise award had been rescinded as there had been serious numerical errors done by the DfT in awarding this franchise to First Group. This does not inspire confidence in the DfT in managing our railway system in its best and most cost effective manner, particularly when we are once again subjected to inflation plus fare rises in the New Year of around 4.2% for regulated fares.

7. While I recognise the necessity of financing major expansion and investment in our
railways for several decades, increases of this nature are never welcome in an age of recession and austerity. It is critically important that increases in fares result in better services all round. Otherwise there will be immense electoral and political pressure to cut fares and costs on the railways, regardless of what impacts this has on service provision and even line continuance.

8. With regard to the Scottish situation, it is noted that there is a proposal to construct a high speed line from Edinburgh to Glasgow, as disclosed in late 2012 by Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Deputy First Minister. While I personally support the whole high speed rail ethos, I am not sure about the exact merits of such a project in light of the major cutbacks on the EGIP electrification project on the same route. I will be interested to see how this progresses, as many of the issues driving the HS2 project further south do not apply to the same extent here. Besides, if they really are going to spend hundreds of millions on shortening journey times on the Edinburgh Glasgow line, it would be nice to see a fraction of that money spent on shortening rail journey times on the Inverness Thurso/ Wick line, particularly if the Pentland Firth and Shetland oil/gas starts up in any meaningful form up here.

9. I note with interest repeated comments from other rail campaigners about the inadequacy of rolling stock (Class 170 Turbostars) on the Edinburgh/ Glasgow Aberdeen/ Inverness services. I and other members of our Group have used these services over the years, including recently. While I personally believe that these trains are not bad, certainly compared to Class 158s/ 156s and even 150s (and the latter have been used on these lines), I can understand that there is room for improvement on a number of fronts. To this end, I suggest that the Class 222 Meridian diesel electric multiple units are brought up to these routes once the Midland Main Line electrification is complete. I have used these trains myself, and they are better than the Class 221 Super Voyagers in terms of seat comfort, legroom and luggage space. The Class 222s are currently used on Midland services from London St. Pancras to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield as well as other cities. They are in either 5-car or 7-car formations, and they have much better acceleration and comfort than the Class