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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Talking of Trains

The electioneering gets more interesting by the day now there is just a week before the country determines who will form the next UK Government. One especial commitment put forward by Labour is intention to renationalise Britain's fragmented railway system. Since privatisation under John Major's unlamented term of office those of us who have to use the railways for work and other essential commitments - find ourselves paying the highest fares in Europe for probably (in many cases but not all) the worst possible rail passenger experience. The northwest in particular remains saddled with handmedown rolling stock just smartened up with new interior fittings and revamped colour schemes - as well as a continuing use of the abysmal 'Pacer' units which would be condemned by any other self respecting railway operator. These are promised to be finally sent to the scrap heap under the new Northern franchise holder - itself a subsidiary or wholly owned entity of Deutsche Bahn aka as DB. Behind the friendly corporate front are German shareholders.

Blackpool North will soon be the object of major track renewal and platform alterations to handle the 'new' electrified trains which Northern Rail will be running to the resort. Having used the current fleet on travel to Liverpool recently I found the level of seats from the floor to be designed for people of limited height or schoolchildren, as opposed to the average height of most of the population. Why this should be so is something we may find out in the course of time. The coaches themselves were built originally by British Rail Engineering Ltd. (BREL) - it says so in the embedded entrance metal strips. This signifies these trains have to be twenty-five to thirty years or so old at this point. No brand new shiny up to the minute trains for this part of the country - heaven forbid.

Having ranted on about the state of the regional rail operator franchise holder it was all the more contrasting to read online today of the opening of the brand new 295 mile railway built to link Nairobi with the busy port of Mombasa. Open ahead ahead of schedule within three and a half years, the line includes two brand new superlative designed terminal stations far above the 1930s era concrete hall which serves as Blackpool's railway station and destined to stay this way well into the 21st Century by Network Rail; seven intermediate stations and 23 passing stations (presumably without any structural features other than platforms). A total of 79 bridges were required both over and under the 295 miles of right of way - delivered on time and within budget. Sets of brand new shiny up to the minute passenger trains and locomotives came with the scheme - with seating seemingly designed for normal people given images online.

All of this was built and delivered for £2.5 Billion through challenging landscape by the Chinese contracting company under a deal financed - yes by the Chinese Government. Extensions from Nairobi already in planning will take the railway into all of the neighbouring east african countries as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo. A journey time of four and a half hours cuts the existing railway time by two thirds between the two major cities. And the ticket price? Well for ordinary travellers (most) a one way ticket will be just £7 and Business Class £22.00 - no information on season or commuter tickets available but definitely not anywhere close to the extortionate levels charged to British commuters. At the recent International Investment Forum in Beijing the Kenyan Government already received assurances of a further £2.8 Billion to finance a further 128 mile expansion of the railway westward. No doubt this too will be delivered on time and within budget.

Let me see? Wyre Dock, Fleetwood to Poulton - 5 miles and three? stations; Blackpool South to Kirkham 9 miles and seven stations - total makeover and upgrading with similar strategic partnership - throw in some brand new trains, smart station buildings, and visionary management - say £200 - £260 million max delivered within two years. With fares that reflect the strapped income level of 'hard working families', students and pensioners - plus free travel for those seeking work and job interviews. Time for some real changes perhaps?

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