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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman


One of the most depressing aspects of travel by rail to and from Blackpool are the clapped out third hand trains used by our area franchise holder. Now that a General Election is at hand and renewal of franchises are required - promises of new rolling stock are being pushed hard at politicians and a tired travelling public paying some of the highest rail fares in Europe.

An in-depth television programme this past week looking into the state of Britain's railway network brought home through interviews with Network Rail and people employed to bring about positive change - the hard realities of what an ill-judged privatisation has cost this country (and more importantly the public's purse).

Apparantly the big winners in this scramble for profit are the Rolling Stock Companies (Roscos) who lease the all of the trains we ride on - to the actual operators. One wonders how much return is being made on the worn out Pacers and run down carriages running into and out of Blackpool's termini. These intermediate middlemen add a further layer of cost to Britain's train system, and one which is carefully hidden by the layers of fancy paint jobs sprayed on locomotives and carriages by their latest lessees.

In contrast to the sad treatment meted out to travellers in the northwest - commuters in and around the Chilterns are taking benefit from not only new trains but also new stations and services by Deutsche Bahn owned Chiltern Railways. Having lived close to Bicester and Oxford I have personal experience of rail service into London as well as north to Birmingham by this operator. New track connection and junctions allowing frequent direct service to London Marylebone from Oxford via new Parkway stations and Bicester - are at hand. Importantly this massive programme is being financed in the main by the train operator - Chiltern and not the taxpayer. The television programme focussed on the work taking place at Bicester linking the Oxford line to the Marylebone to Birmingham service - coincidentally with a major park and ride station a few yards from Britain's most successful discount shopping centre - Bicester Village. All due to open early next year and on time. Fleetwood Freeport take notice.

After watching the hour long expose with both high and low points, any Party intending to retrieve public ownership and control over a unified British rail network has my vote. Blackpool has been at the tailend of rail investment ever since the Beeching cuts over fifty years ago. What was a fundamental flow of visitors to the town by rail has been inexorably reduced to a trickle with many paying the privilege of riding in carriages well past their shelf life. I haven't even touched on the rapacious ticketing and pricing inflicted on British commuters. Perhaps bringing back steam hauled expresses from Blackpool to London Euston via Crewe of course, might be just a step too far - but at least they were clean, comfortable, actually reliable and compared to today's prices - affordable.

We should be taking a hard look at Chiltern Railways for rejuvenation of our area rail network in 2016. This is a company obviously able to deliver more than another run of the mill paint job on its latest rolling stock leasing deal in some casual rebranding job.

That programme was worth watching.

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