Secret jewel needs guide

IPSWICH'S Orwell Country Park is one of the jewels in the town - it's a real green oasis for people living in Gainsborough and Ravenswood as well as further afield.

IPSWICH'S Orwell Country Park is one of the jewels in the town - it's a real green oasis for people living in Gainsborough and Ravenswood as well as further afield.

When it opened back in the early 1990s it was to bright fanfares and much publicity.

Now it seems to be one of the best-kept secrets in town, familiar to those in the know but something of a mystery to the rest of the population.

On Sunday I went for a stroll around Bridge Wood with my wife, who is not as familiar as I am with the country park.

Before we set off we looked at the map - but that was fairly pointless because after all these years the map itself is so faded that you can hardly make out anything on it.

Certainly it is impossible to make out the waymarked paths because they have faded completely.

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As we walked round the wood, we noticed the waymarked posts with their colours and arrows. They proved useful markers on our way back to the car park after a stroll along the foreshore of the river.

But we still don't know exactly where we had been walking. We don't know how our route related to the rest of the wood.

Another look at the map proved none the wiser. There were no leaflets for visitors at the entrance to the park - and there was nothing about it on the borough council's website.

All in all, it looked as if the Orwell Country Park and Bridge Wood had been quietly forgotten by the borough.

Which is a shame. The council clearly spends a lot of money keeping the paths clear and making Bridge Wood attractive for visitors.

Why on earth doesn't it spend a little bit on telling visitors about it?

I know money is tight - but I can't believe it would break the bank to reprint the poster at the entrance and print a few hundred copies of the map for people to take with them on their walk.

And it would cost them even less to put information about the park on their website, so we could check on what we're likely to see, before we head off.

LAST week's chaos on East Anglia's railways has given all those frustrated by their daily grind into work, the chance to vent their spleen on the network.

We've heard from people complaining about every aspect of the service - the age of the locomotives, the fact that they don't like the air conditioning - even if they have nothing to do with the problems faced last week.

But what has really struck me over the last few days is that when the brickbats and recriminations are flying around, the one organisation which should be blamed for the situation has escaped criticism.

That is the government, especially the Department of Transport, which has created a rail industry so fragmented and complex that it seems to have disconnected with its customers.

Last week's problems were caused by Network Rail's overhead wires - but Network Rail has no direct relationship with passengers.

The government set up a structure on privatisation where the track company and the train companies were separated.

Now if there is a problem with the track, passengers claim compensation from their train company who then claims it back from Network Rail.

The train companies don't even own their own trains - they lease them from other companies which own them.

And they have no real choice on what trains to run on which line - when it issued the franchise the government essentially set down what trains should run and when. It just then told 'one' to get on and run them.

It's not a question of ownership or competition - when the rail industry was privatised back in the 1990s many people felt the only sensible way to sell off what was a national asset was as a single entity, British Rail plc.

Had that happened there would have been no disconnection between the trains and the tracks they run on. Everyone would have known which organisation was responsible if things went wrong.

And there would be no need to argue about who should pay each other if a problem did arise - a situation which inevitably requires the employment of expensive lawyers.

Before arguments of competition are raised, the competition for the 'one' rail service to London is not the Central Railway service from Norwich to Birmingham, it is the A12 and National Express coaches (which happen to be owned by the same company as the trains).

When the current rail set-up was introduced by the Tories in the mid 1990s, the Labour opposition said it would be a disaster.

They were right, but have done nothing but tinker at the edges of a creaking system by replacing Railtrack with Network Rail.

Now the Conservatives in opposition are talking about putting the rail industry back together as a single identity. Why do I find their promises equally difficult to believe?