Government drives trains off the rails

WHEN it was first set up a couple of years ago, I had high hopes for the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).It was what the post-privatised rail network needed – some central direction and a boost for new services.

WHEN it was first set up a couple of years ago, I had high hopes for the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).

It was what the post-privatised rail network needed – some central direction and a boost for new services.

However the more I hear about this organisation, the more it starts to sound like a bureaucratic monster lumbering through the transport industry like a dinosaur.

Its character changed dramatically following the Hatfield crash and the chaos that followed.

Until then it had been an innovative body looking for new services to sponsor.

Since then it has tried to concentrate on making the existing network work better – and seems incapable of making a quick decision.

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Ipswich rail passengers, in particular, have seen little benefit in its recent actions.

It's decided not to continue supporting the Crosslink service to Basingstoke, which finishes at the end of this month.

Anglia bosses were disappointed by this, but every cloud has a silver lining – or so they thought until the SRA stuck its oar in again.

The train company hoped to use the spare Turbostar unit freed by the closure of Crosslink to its cross-country service from Ipswich to Peterborough.

This is a popular service whose only drawback is the basic diesel units that are used on it – a fact acknowledged by Anglia chiefs.

But when they told the SRA the wanted to improve things, they were promptly rebuffed.

"You've got to hand back the spare Turbostar unit to the leasing company, you can't use it on any other service," they were told by the SRA.

There is a little chink of light in that Anglia has applied to the SRA for permission to boost its cross-country services.

But no one is really expecting this to happen before the franchise for the new Greater Anglia region is settled in 18 months time.

In the meantime the SRA is keen to see those of us who want to travel cross-country to Peterborough squashed into inadequate units that are frankly not up to the job.

WHEN I had a go at the county and borough councils' policy on cycling a fortnight ago, there was an interesting reaction.

Several cyclists reckoned I'd hit the nail on the head with my comments about bikes and buses not mixing.

A councillor suggested that I should move into the real world. "It isn't possible to just create cycle routes out of the blue," was the comment I heard.

If they really don't think it's possible to create a network of cycle-only paths then I suggest they take a day trip to Peterborough – just £12 on the train.

There they will find a city almost as old as Ipswich with a very good network of cycle routes going right into the centre and where families can cycle safely without any risk of being knocked over by cars, lorries or buses.

Within a few feet of the station (which is right in the city centre anyway) you can be on your bike heading towards one of the large housing estates with no fear of hitting traffic.

The network was used by following the path of the River Nene.

In Ipswich a bit of enlightened planning could create cycle paths to the Whitton and Whitehouse estates as well as Sproughton and Bramford by using the River Gipping.

But as long as our councils don't take cycling seriously and think that its enough to dab a little white paint on the roads, you'll never see a meaningful increase in the number of cyclists in this part of the world.

SO the Countryside Alliance's protest of lighting beacons across the country prompted scores of emergency calls to the fire service on Monday night.

We had 12 false alarms in Suffolk and there were dozens more across the country.

Given that each false emergency call - whether innocent or malicious - costs several hundred pounds, will the Alliance be sent a bill by the fire service?

After all the membership criteria for the Alliance seems to be the ownership of a Land Rover, the ownership of a pair of bespoke green wellies, and a desire to ride across fields watching the guts being ripped out of foxes, hares, or deer.

To paraphrase a popular song in these parts 20 years ago: "I've never seen a Countryside Alliance member on a bike!"