Rail network still flawed

VOLUNTEERS in William Hague's Richmondshire constituency have raised more than £1 million to reopen a picturesque rural railway line for passenger services, which since 1954 has been used solely for transporting limestone from quarries and by the Army for moving heavy armour to their ranges on the moors.

VOLUNTEERS in William Hague's Richmondshire constituency have raised more than £1 million to reopen a picturesque rural railway line for passenger services, which since 1954 has been used solely for transporting limestone from quarries and by the Army for moving heavy armour to their ranges on the moors.

The first trains on the re-opened route ran on Friday, but members of the Wensleydale Railway Association stressed the 18-mile route in the North Yorkshire Dales is not a heritage line but a proper commercial service. The eventual aim is to link the East Coast Main Line at Northallerton with the Settle-Carlisle line, opening up a vast tourist potential as well as giving a major transport boost to the communities of the Dales.

Tempting as it is to support any reversal of the folly of successive Labour and Tory governments in decimating the railway network in the decades since the war, we're unlikely to witness a similar renaissance in East Anglia. Although there is considerable pressure to re-open to Sudbury-Long-Melford-Cambridge line closed in 1961, it would cost millions of pounds, way beyond the means of enthusiasts, and it's hardly likely to feature on any Network Rail list of priorities.

What rail travellers want is for those trains that do run to operate to their scheduled trains. But typically, on a journey from Liverpool Street last Wednesday, the in-train Tannoy announcements came fast and furious. "This service has been delayed by the late arrival of the crew . . . sorry, there's no catering in the rear section . . . I've had a pager message, a lorry's hit a bridge at Romford . . . a freight train has broken down at Witham . . . we're running behind a slow service to Braintree." You couldn't make it up if you tried. But despite all these tribulations, the train was "only" 20 minutes late – although late enough for all those wishing to go on to Lowestoft to miss their connection.


You may also want to watch:


Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith last week tried to make some capital out of the rail industry when he resurrected John Prescott's remarks in 1998 that it was a "national disgrace" that one in 10 trains ran late. "They have not just got worse: they are twice as bad as when the Deputy Prime Minister said that they were a "national disgrace. One in five trains now run," snapped the opposition leader.

Indeed they probably do, but as it ill behoves the Conservatives to try to make political capital out of the railways because it was they who privatised the network, the Prime Minister came out of the exchanges in the Commons smelling of roses. "The combination of underinvestment over many years and a catastrophic privatisation implemented by the previous Conservative Government have given us this situation. It will take billions of pounds of extra investment over the next few years to put matters right."

Most Read

The patience of commuting voters may well not last that long. Yesterday, it was revealed that performance times have gone down a further 3.4% – "it can only get better" seems a distant prospect.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter