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Archive Monday, 29 November, 1999, 12:56 GMT
The Great Train Jam November 29 1999
The Great Train Jam
Monday 29 November 1999
Reporter Vivian White
Producer Rabinder Minhas

Panorama investigates why train jams are becoming as frustrating as traffic jams for Britain's travelling public. Reporter Vivian White reveals that despite our growing willingness to go by rail, Railtrack and the train operating companies are unable to give us the network we need.

At the heart of the problem is the vast cost of bringing Britain's railways up to 21st century standards and the dilemma over where the money should come from.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page for related web sites

Gerald Corbett
Railtrack chief Gerald Corbett reveals on Panorama that Railtrack has had to radically revise its investment plans upwards in order to cope with the new levels of demand, and he says Railtrack cannot raise all the money needed from the commercial sector.

But an independent study for the BBC's rail week, Track Record, says Railtrack's new figure is still not enough. Sir Alastair Morton, head of the new Strategic Rail Authority, also tells Panorama the government will have to pump more funds into rail, and he says the Prime Minister is backing him.

Click here to go to the BBC News Online track record site.

The programme investigates the problems caused by under-investment in one of the busiest areas of the network - Birmingham. Whilst nobody needs reminding of the traffic jams that create motorway misery around Birmingham, Panorama reveals that Birmingham's congested train tracks are fast becoming the spaghetti junction of the rail network.

The biggest problem is the main line running east-west through the city which is only two tracks wide. This line is shared by two frustrated train operators with very different agendas. Virgin want to run their fast trains along the track as quickly as possible. The local service providers, Centro, are more worried about making sure plenty of their stopping trains get through. Somehow both services have to be squeezed along the two lines and there are plenty of delays as a result. In the 1930s there was a plan to widen the line but it still hasn't happened.

Michael Bassett
For Birmingham Royal Ballet pianist Michael Bassett it's a recipe for passenger dissatisfaction. He commutes from London to Birmingham three times a week and has to get up at 5.30am to catch an earlier Virgin train than he should need just to make sure he gets there on time despite the delays.

Virgin Trains Chief Executive Chris Green agrees Mr Bassett is not getting a good enough service and says one of the key problems is when the trains leave the four track mainline to the North and turn left onto those two lines heading for Birmingham. "The moment we turn left we're on two tracks and we're sharing those with a train that wants to stop nine times and we can only overtake at one place. So it's like getting off the motorway onto a very narrow A road with double white lines."

Running north south through Birmingham is another problem, what commuters call the "misery line", which appropriately enough runs directly under Spaghetti Junction.
Irene Carolina
Irene Carolina uses this line to get to her job as an analyst at Birmingham Women's Hospital and has to cope with trains that don't even stop at stations sometimes if they are running late. "The train just does not stop at all. It's obviously running late and it will completely miss the station out altogether which is really annoying," she says.

Mike Haigh, Head of Planning and Performance at Central Trains who operates the service, admits they sometimes miss out stops. "Those decisions are taken for the right operational reasons. And when I say operational reasons that is because the people who make those decisions are looking at getting the train on time, in the peak, to carry the maximum number of passengers at the right time."

The programme investigates how much it will cost to bring the whole network up to the right standard. According to Railtrack chief Gerald Corbett, the investment needed to solve the problems across the whole rail network will have to rise from their original figure of 27 billion to a new figure of 35 billion. But the BBC's own survey suggests that even that figure is an under-estimate and they should be planning for an investment requirement of 41billion.

Related links:
Rail Links (including rail companies) from BBC News Online Track Record site

Advanced Railways Research Centre. University of Sheffield

Office of the Rail Regulator


Department of Environment Transport and the Regions

Related News Stories:
Summary Of the BBC/ARRC rail survey by Tim James University of Sheffield

Rail crisis hits home of cricket

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

WATCH. Vivian White on Rail Congestion in Birmingham
Birmingham. The National Hub
WATCH. Passenger Irene Carolina.
Trains are skipping out stops.
Links to more Archive stories are at the foot of the page.

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