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How can rail passengers ever trust their services again?

PUBLISHED: 10:51 28 August 2014

Rail passengers suffered further delays.

Rail passengers suffered further delays.

For those of us who do not commute to work every day, it is difficult to imagine the sheer anger and frustration that our rail companies put passengers through on a regular basis.

Middy needs a longer run to reach its full potential

From one rail controversy to another – but of a very different kind!

I was rather disappointed to hear the objections that had come in from some neighbours of the Mid Suffolk Light Railway to its application to extend its running line.

I was particularly amused to see that one property would suffer “steam pollution, smog, smell, noise and intrusion” if the extension went ahead.

What we’re talking about is a light railway with an historic steam engine travelling at low speed on a very few (and closely regulated) number of days a year.

We aren’t talking about an eastern extension of HS2!

If you really don’t like steam trains, then I suppose you don’t like them – but I know a lot of people who would love to see a light railway at the bottom of the garden (and believe me it does wonders for property prices!).

It would be great for the local tourist economy and be a real magnet for steam enthusiasts from across Suffolk (okay, so I’m a bit biased in that regard).

I’m pleased to see that Mid Suffolk Council is going to work closely with the railway over the next few months to try to come up with a solution.

There is no reason why the Middy cannot operate in harmony with its neighbours and with local wildlife – after all, it did for the first half of the 20th century!

And by far the worst culprit is Network Rail – the nationalised company which shows time after time that it is incapable of properly organising engineering work.

For the third time in eight weeks major weekend engineering work on the main line between London and East Anglia has over-run – this time taking seven and a half hours longer than planned.

What makes the situation worse is that no one at Network Rail seemed to realise that problems were building up until they occurred.

One thing that is significant is that this time the penny seems to have dropped – they seem to have realised just how serious this latest foul-up was.

Two weeks ago I got the impression that senior staff felt an apology and a half-hearted assurance that things like this would not happen again would suffice.

This time the mood does seem to have changed. It is encouraging to hear that they are looking again at the next weekend’s engineering work and are not just ploughing on regardless.

But for many travellers this has all come a bit late. Fine words like: “We do lots of work every weekend and most are finished on time” butter no parsnips if you’ve faced three miserable returns to work over the last three months.

What is needed now by Network Rail, with prompting from Abellio Greater Anglia, is a long, hard look at how they carry out their engineering work in this region. I was told the other day that they had carried out more than 1,000 engineering projects across the country over the bank holiday weekend, but this was the only one that seriously over-ran.

If that is true it is very worrying, coming after a similar incident at the start of August and the Colchester problems earlier in the summer.

It suggests that engineering teams in other parts of the country can get things right but those working in this region struggle to work out how to complete the work.

I’m no expert in how to wire up new and old signalling, but if they are able to manage it in other parts of the country, why can’t they do it here? I’m sure our signals are not all that different to those elsewhere in the country.

The attitude change from Network Rail is a welcome development, and I can see why their staff are feeling “rather raw” this week.

But it is absolutely necessary for them to ask tough questions of themselves – and to ensure things go as smoothly as possible in the future.

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