Sunday, 22 February 2009

No way to run a railroad

Posted on Bevan Foundation blog on 22 February 2009

We need to cut car journeys, right?

So why aren't we making the alternatives more attractive?

Not only are our rail fares 50% higher than the rest of Europe, but train companies aren't investing in improving the experience of travelling by rail.

In this week's Ponty Observer former UK Transport Minister Kim Howells reveals a plan to close town the ticket office in Pontyrpidd train station and replace it with a machine.

As the local MP puts it: "Pontypridd and Treforest are two of Wales’s busiest railway stations and the rise in passenger numbers has been huge over the past five years or so, yet the condition of the stations has improved very little".

A leaky roof, drafty platform and unreliable lift are all features of the town's busy main station.

On the front page of his local paper Kim Howells tells of filing past the brightly lit waiting room on Platform One in icy weather: "we look with incredulity through the glass doors of a room that has comfortable seats and interesting framed photographs on the walls, but which is locked to the travelling public. This is a kind of torture when the wind is blowing straight in from Siberia! Does it take managerial genius to give somebody the responsibility for opening and locking the waiting room and keeping an eye on it occasionally? After all, the Pontypridd station is now also the HQ of the British Transport Police".

It's a familiar tale to regular users of public transport. Buses that don’t connect with train times, insecure cycle parking and poorly-lit footpaths are all barriers to using the train, according to a survey by the Campaign for Better Transport.

Performance on the Valleys Lines has improved. The trains are pretty reliable, and a much better alternative than being stuck on the congested roads. But if we are serious about achieving 'modal shift', then we need to make travelling by train a much more attractive option.

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