Rail bosses need reality check

SO the bosses at Network Rail want to run trains 365 days of the year and confine all engineering work to night-time hours when few, if any, services are running.

SO the bosses at Network Rail want to run trains 365 days of the year and confine all engineering work to night-time hours when few, if any, services are running.

I do hope you'll excuse my guffaws of laughter at this ludicrous proposal from a company that has shown consistently that it is incapable of getting its engineering right.

Passengers travelling from East Anglia to London have every right to be deeply suspicious of any engineering proposals drawn up by the company.

Network Rail is, of course, the not-for-profit company set up by the government in the debacle that followed the collapse of Railtrack after the Hatfield disaster.

Railtrack's near abandonment of routine maintenance of the tracks eventually led to a fatal accident, widespread speed limits and a huge backlog of work.

At least Network Rail is now tackling this maintenance backlog - even if it is not able to manage the work satisfactorily.

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Few commuters will forget in a hurry the dark days of August/September 2006 when overhead wires in Essex showed a depressing habit of coming down every time a train passed under them.

Then the Christmas engineering work at Liverpool Street and at Rugby in the West Midlands proved yet again that when big projects happen Network Rail finds it difficult to cope.

Now managing director Iain Croucher has said trains should run every day of the week and on Christmas Day and Boxing Day - with engineering work happening overnight.

With the best will in the world there are some projects that are too major to undertake in the four-hour period between about 1am and 5am every day when most lines are quiet.

And of course some lines are operational 24 hours a day - especially main routes out of London which carry sleeper trains.

It's bad enough when services every Monday morning are at risk because of over-running engineering work.

How would you feel to have that uncertainty hanging over your head every day if you commuted on an early-morning train?

I don't like travelling when there are engineering works. I try to avoid making leisure trips if I know that I'm going to have to get into a bus for part of the trip.

But sometimes you have to travel under those circumstances - and so long as you know in advance what the situation will be such travel is tolerable.

When Ipswich tunnel had its track re-laid a few years ago, Network Rail and 'one' worked well together to ensure that the service operated as planned.

It was a bit of a pain, I only travelled to London twice during the closure, but the trains and buses worked together and we got there when we were supposed to.

That is much better than having an unreliable service and getting stuck in a train in the middle of nowhere for hours because the line ahead still hasn't been opened.

The boss of Network Rail should understand that what passengers want is full knowledge of how their journey will go before they get on a train - not an airy-fairy promise of running trains whenever you want them, a promise that can only result in a massive letdown later.

MY comments on Kesgrave last week provoked a bit of reaction, as I had expected, but I must confess to being slightly surprised by the tone of those that have come my way.

I had expected a flood of complaints from along the A1214, but was surprised to find that those I've received so far have been 2-1 in favour of what I wrote.

One letter I had from a regular contact summed up the views of several people I heard from: “I couldn't agree more,” he said

“It's about time those tight wads at Kesgrave (and Martlesham/Thorington Hall/Pinewood etc) contributed towards the benefits paid for by borough residents!!”

I'm not sure that I would put it in quite those terms, but it isn't unreasonable to expect people who live in urban areas to pay for the privileges they enjoy.

I know those on Kesgrave Town Council can't stand the thought that they are really part of Ipswich - but they really ought to face up to reality.

I've spoken to several people who live in Kesgrave - both before and after the article was published last week - and none of them had any argument with me.

“Of course we'd rather pay lower council tax to Woodbridge than higher council tax to Ipswich, but it's daft to pretend that we don't live in Ipswich,” one told me.

“It would be fairer if we did contribute, and I think most people recognise that. We're not going to volunteer but I can't see many people manning the barricades over the issue.

“The only people who are really up in arms are the town council - and hardly anyone bothers to vote for them anyway!”

One angry letter I did have on the subject from Kesgrave was from a resident who is living under the misapprehension that residents of Ipswich get discounts at Crown Pools, the Regent Theatre, and the Corn Exchange.

That seems to show a high level of ignorance of Ipswich affairs by some people living in Kesgrave - coming just a few days after a councillor made inaccurate statements about the borough at the town council meeting at which the question of “Greater Ipswich” was discussed.

IT WAS good to see Suffolk County Council leader Jeremy Pembroke visiting the Suffolk Youth Dance Company last week.

He certainly seemed enthusiastic during his visit. I'm just slightly disappointed that he didn't give us all a demonstration of his twinkle toes!

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