Muddled thinking signals why railways are on wrong track

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From: A Oldfield, Yorkshire Branch Treasurer, Railfuture, Long Lane, Worrall, Sheffield.

OF all the government departments, is the Department of Transport (DfT) the most enigmatic? This question is posed in the light of recent rail announcements and decisions. The long overdue approval for the electrification of the Midland Main Line should have generated the traditional three cheers greeting, but given its contents rationing the celebrations to only two cheers seems wholly appropriate. Why?

The package announced smacks of classic false economy. By failing to extend the wires beyond Sheffield to South Kirkby Junction, and between Swinton-Doncaster via Rotherham Central, it ignores the existing Bedford-Leeds electrification gap. In deciding electrification schemes, has population no part to play in the process?

What is the point of leaving an annoyingly short-sighted gap between not only the two largest centres of population in Yorkshire, but also two of the largest cities in England? Where is the sense in maintaining such a gap when Northern Hub developments will deliver electrification of the North Trans-Pennine route?

References made to addressing the gap feature in the Initial Industry Plan proposals for future electrification but they are of no consolation, for that just means further delay, and with it the prospect of an infill-electrification project that will cost more than if it had been included in the Midland Main Line package originally.

Then there is also the matter of inefficiency and waste by limiting the wires to Sheffield, with empty stock movements to/from Derby presumably, for maintenance purposes, plus also having to retain diesel haulage for workings to/from Leeds.

To add further insult, accompanying the Midland Main Line decision came approval for extending the wires beyond Cardiff to Swansea, along with electrification of the Welsh Valleys. This means that highly populated South Yorkshire will remain in not-so splendid isolation as being the largest region in the UK lacking an electrified local rail network.

Consider too repeated austerity calls, and then reflect on the £58m allocated to the Meadowhall South-Rotherham Central-Parkgate tram train experiment.

The acquisition of additional vehicles to enhance present Supertram operations is completely acceptable, but funding the trial in these harsh times is certainly not. If all the talk of austerity is to be taken seriously, then there is surely no place for expenditure on this scale for an experiment.

To draw an analogy with the Olympics, electrification of the Midland Main Line would equal winning a gold medal, while the Meadowhall South-Parkgate tram train amounts to fourth place in an Olympic gold final.

Any chance of another U-turn by the coalition Government?

From: Professor Paul Salveson MBE, Hannah Mitchell Foundation, Huddersfield.

CHRISTIAN Wolmar’s analysis of the failure of rail privatisation (Yorkshire Post, September 1) is spot on. Franchising has not delivered value for money and politicians should face up to the fact.

Yet Wolmar’s prescriptions for railway reform are wide of the mark. While saying that ‘no-one would want to see ministers taking over the running of services directly’, that is exactly what you would get with a state-owned railway.

What’s more, the devolved governments in the UK would 
not accept surrendering control of their railway network to London. The rail re-openings we have seen in both Scotland and Wales would never have happened if their rail network had been under the sway of London civil servants.

The altenative is looking at creating a railway which is run on a not-for-dividend basis which recognises the complexities of people’s travel patterns.

We need a national inter-city network but local and regional services are best managed at a devolved level. The Yorkshire ‘regional’ rail network is more than big enough to justify its own management structure, accountable to the communities it serves.

All we need is a regional government to provide that accountability.

From: Alan Whittaker, Park Drive, Nelson, Lancashire.

WITH reference to your news item on Richard Branson (Yorkshire Post, August 29) and his anger at the decision to recommend the awarding of the new West Coast franchise to an alternative transport company, he has apparently branded the bidding process as being “insane”.

I am reminded of Mark Twain’s quote: “In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane.” Don’t demonise, Sir Richard!