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Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Scotland: Rail line closure - your views
Railtrack was severely criticised for closing the West Coast Main Line between Glasgow and Carlisle.
The decision followed the rail tragedy at Hatfield in which four people died.
The manner in which Railtrack announced the closure has infuriated train operators ScotRail and Virgin.
Both said they had received scant notice of the closure and hundreds of passengers on sleeper services were the first to be affected.
These are your views of the way the closure was handled.
Forget the politics in this. Why blame politicians? The problem lies with mismanagement of the rail businesses.
We are given poor services, poor information when things go wrong, and pay a high financial cost. We are expected to use old, dangerously crowded and unsafe rolling stock, and occasionally pay a very high price, when things go wrong.
Politicians can put pressure on the companies, but it isn't their "fault" that things go wrong. Its the relentless pursuit of profit that causes the problems.
Being a railway enthusiast myself I observed all the time how the condition of the whole network deterriorated after privatisation.
BR might have lacked investment but it has been well maintained throughout the time.
Renationalisation is desirable for the benefit of passengers and railway staff.
The BBC news report gives a clue as to what is going on ...
Gerald Corbett, Railtrack, said: "Of course, in the short term that is going to be awful for passengers, but our local people have the accountability for safety and if they get it wrong and make the wrong judgement, they can get prosecuted."
Sounds like Railtrack's local managers have rebelled, no doubt fed up with the lack of a clear and acceptable leadership from Railtrack HQ.
Can I ask that next time Mr Corbett or John Prescott is interviewed, John Humphries or Jeremy Paxman or whoever asks the following questions ...
"Did Railtrack HQ order the closures or was it a local management initiative?"
"Do you undertake not to take/allow disciplinary action against the local managers once Hatfield is less prominant in the public mind?"
"Why hasn't GNER started legal procedings against Balfour Beatty - surely if BB were responsible for maintenance they had an equal if not greater duty of care to GNER and its passengers?"
"Why hasn't Railtrack recinded BB's contract on grounds of non-performance?"
"Has Railtrack started disciplinary action against the engineering manager in charge of the Hatfield track, if not - why not?"
"Is it to ensure that Railtrack's correspondence is not subject to court disclosure proceedings?"
Railtrack's priority isn't safety, it's not being caught.
If Hatfield hadn't happened they would have had no qualms about sending us down potentially lethal track at normal (high) speeds.
I feel for the rail companies who are face-to-face with angry customers whilst Railtrack executives keep away from the public.
Sure the work needs to be done but if Railtrack had been doing their job properly, instead of making sure they can pay their chief executive £400,000 a year, the work would have been done progressively rather than all at once.
What people are so annoyed about is that it's has been over a year since the Ladbroke disaster and nothing seems to have been done - a year!
One of the problems with today's rail system is that it is running at near capacity, and hence things wear out more quickly.
Railways in this country are a success story, and companies like Railtrack are a victim of their own success.
We don't expect it on the roads, so why the railways?
Safety has always been a priority on the railways - indeed, the railways developed as the safey technology allowed it to.
Now we try and turn the clock back by getting in a pack of builders more used to patching holes in the road than maintaining a 140mph railway!
Come on John Prescott and Gordon Brown - forget tax breaks for diesel, use the money to take Raitrack back into public ownership and make the railways accountable again to its customers, not a few suits in the City
The problems that are occurring now with Railtrack are just endemic of the whole railway system in this country.
If you'll excuse the pun, the railway system is just one big gravy train.
Full of companies that abuse people's need to travel by charging extortionate fares and in return giving them stand-up saunas to travel in.
I travel on the Thameslink line everyday and I can count on one hand the number of times I have been able to sit down.
I think that the regulators definitely need to set out stricter guidelines for Railtrack and the train companies and (just like they've done with Connex) any company that doesn't perform gets their licence revoked.
Although there has been major disruption on the line, how many people would prefer there to have been another accident instead of the line being fixed?
I agree that Railtrack should have done this before now and kept safety up to scratch but let's not go into the past, we must think about now.
These improvements are necessary for us to travel on this line in safety.
So don't knock the folk who are trying to prevent another accident.
After the Paddington rail crash, any concern shown about the improvment of rail facilities should be welcomed by all of us, no matter how we are inconvienced.
The system seems to be made up of so many companies and so few rules to bind them together by a single purpose - safety.
Like many things these days we the consumer don't get real information just news papers reporting the way they see the situation and their political views on those subjects.
When are we really going to be treated with respect by those who have the infomation?
Once again, we see how decisions made by people whom neither live in the area affected or care about the people who do.
I fear that once again, the Scots people are treated as a region, as a small part of "somewhere up north" and thus any disruption is insignificant.
I can bet that short notice like this would not have occured if the people affected worked in Greater London and the large commuter belt.
These actions are not based on safety, but on covering up what will later be found to be another possible site of an accident.
I have no faith in the people whom run the rail services in this country, nor the people checking them.
If Railtrack can't run a decent service then the tracks should be physically removed from their property and relaid somewhere else. It may be an expensive process at first but I am sure it will pay off in the long run.
I find the continued comparison between safety on the railways and that of roads to be infuriating!
Yes, there may be more accidents on the roads but when will people realise that those accidents are caused by the users, not by the road system itself?
The accidents on the rail network are the fault of those charged with managing and maintaining the system - for which passengers pay good money.
Now with the closure of the West Coast line we see Railtrack meeting its responsibilities only AFTER more lives have been lost.
It's an outrage.
The current hysteria over rail safety is likely to result in more rather than fewer deaths. Rail travel is 15 times safer than car travel, even with the current flaws in the system.
The same day as Hatfield happened, about 10 people were killed on the roads. The same number again the next day. And the next day. What do we ever hear about them? Does anybody close the M6?
I have been wondering when was safety not top proirity with Railtrack. How long have we been traveling when their customers' safety was not their main priority?
It is totally hypocritical for ScotRail's Alastair McPherson to complain about Railtrack's lack of customer relations when he presides over one of the biggest farces in Scotland.
I personally have to put up with overcrowded trains, ignorant staff, late trains, unsafe travelling conditions, a ScotRail helpline number that you can never get through on.
ScotRail's trains leak when it rains and after 3pm on trains leaving Glasgow you are unable to get a seat.
I have seen people crying in trains because of the unsafe conditions, old people being pushed and jostled about and people only finding standing room in the toilets.
ScotRail are the major culprits when it comes to passenger safety and lack of customer relations. On the Glasgow - Ayr route it is only a matter of time before a tragedy happens.
Never forget that the main reason the railways were nationalised in the first place was because the system was completely exhausted by its crucial role in the war effort.
Things weren't exactly rosy for the 'Big Four' railway companies immediately before the war either. There may well have been 50 years of under investment under public ownership, 31 of those years under Tory Governments by the way, but at least there was a system to privatise at the end of it, despite Beeching's best efforts.
Now, surprise, surprise, everybody is realising the self-evident truth that modernisation of the infrastructure and reliable services are mutually incompatible.
Well, Railtrack, the train companies and their shareholders went into this with their eyes open and MUST be made to face up to their responsibilities with as liitle public money as possible, otherwise taxpayers are entitled to demand 51% of their shares in exchange.
Thank God the Tories didn't pour public money into the railways before de-nationalisation, otherwise the myth that privatisation is some kind of universal panacea would never have been blown!
Back before Beeching, when this country still had a proper railway system the vast majority of track in this country was inspected every day by a team of engineers walking the track.
If they identified a problem with the track then the necessary rail would be prepared and the replacement carried out usually within a week, the work being done at night to minimise disruption to services.
I'm afraid to say I don't see this situation changing while Railtrack is still so bothered about making money. The only way to have a safe railway infrastructure is to have the company in charge of it as non-profit making, maybe even loss making, in other words it would have to be government owned.
When the railways were privatised the Tory Government had two options. Give the TOCs control of their infrastructure, or keep infrastructure under government control.
They chose a third way, creating the massive beauraucratic machine that is Railtrack, where the people who inspect the track and those who replace it are not the same, hence no-one has to take responsibilty.
At least in the old days if a rail broke everyone knew where the blame lay, it was with the track gang responsible for that section of the track.
It's the 21st century and travel within the UK is becoming an intolerable chore. The roads are overflowing and the rail networlk is on it's knees. The government are entirely responsible for this situation and should take serious measures to remedy matters, or resign.
I would rather Railtrack close a line (even with a minute's notice) if they feel the track is unsafe, rather than leave it running for 24 hours to give passengers notice - risking another Hatfield, however minimal that risk may be. I can just imagine the condemnation in the headlines if this were to happen.
As I'm booked on the sleeper service next week, I'm pleased that the line is being checked - although it's no substitute for regular maintenance!
ScotRail have done the best they can in surreal circumstances. Because of the scarcity of coach and ferry services in Scotland, a one hour delay in the northbound sleeper service will make me two days late for my destination!
The state that Britian's have apparently got into is frankly appalling. It should never have got to this state, but unfortunately as Hatfield showed us, it has! As such, safety MUST take top priority, by whatever means necessary!
I feel the acction taken is the right one though of course it may force more people onto the roads, which are much more dangourous.
Steve Norris says no one is suggesting going back to BR. Well I am. It was much better Privatisation was a sham, it was rushed and was not done for the benefit of the railway operators or the passengers.
On another point when are we going to have a public enquiry into the 70 people killed on the roads last week?
I think the main problem stems from the way Railtrack has set up its infrastructure operations.
Often the staff are on very casual contracts hired from week to week or month to month. What chance of continuity of trained labour? Once again an example of profit against public service.
There is no need for the cancellation of the sleeper - this is panic. There is an alternative route (the GSW) via Dumfries.
As for Railtrack, Mr Corbett's recent conversion to the opinion that the structure of privatisation is flawed has been a long time coming, hasn't it?
When you consider the millions of pounds that have been made by individuals and Railtrack itself during the privatisation process, it seems criminal that the infrastructure has been allowed to run down to such an extent.
Two hours to travel 40 miles on a high-speed railway! No doubt they've made the right decision in the circumstances, but the circumstances need careful investigation.
There is aperfectly acceptable alternative (non-electrified) route via Kilmarnock, so why not arrange for trains to be diverted?
If the line is bi-direction signalled, why not just take out sections of the line for investigation?
This closure action is a damning indictment on the maintenance of our railways by Railtrack.
I hope they are forced to pay the full cost (social and financial) to the train operators and customers for their complete ineptitude.
Whilst safety must be the primary concern it is difficult to reconcile what appears to be a snap decision to close the line with the statement: "The West Coast line is safe, what we are carrying out now is an addition to what we have carried out over the last year." Either it is safe or it isn't.
It concerns me that Railtrack do not know the state of the tracks, to have to close it down for three days. However, I'd rather that, than see more people die due to the condition of the rail system.
You can't have it both ways.
Well, now they are doing something about it.
To me, it smells of over-reaction but that is a direct result of last week's media hysteria. No, I don't have any connection with Railtrack, nor do I travel by train but I am TOTALLY SICK of irresponsible journalism and its inevitable results.
There should have been better notice really. But if there had been a crash on Thursday what would the people, who are doing the worst complaining, be saying about that?
If safety is to have top priority, then situations such as this must be expected. We can't have it both ways: either we accept the disruption which is inevitable when bringing track up to safety standards, or we accept the inevitable accidents which will result from not having such disruption.
Railtrack assure us that the West Coast main line is safe - if so, it seems surprising that this closure is taking place without notice during the week rather than at the weekend when less disruption would occur.
If Mr Prescott can turn the situation around and create a lasting revival of the railways he will find support from beyond his own party.
I was travelling on a Virgin Train three weeks ago (at the weekend) and we were severly delayed in Scotland due to a broken rail!, so there have been problems before.
To be fair to Railtrack some parts of the line north of the border are remote and subject to extreme weather conditions. But they must be severely worried to take such drastic action and obviously didn't want to waste anymore time by giving longer notice.
Where is the perspective in political life today? Would it be acceptable to impose a 10mph speed limit on all the UK's roads,and close some, in the event of a four-person hit and run?
Railtrack is mismanaging the aftermath of its, and BR's, mismanagement. Blair will pay at the polls for the gridlock and deserve to, for giving Prescott responsibility for transport.
The planning cycle of all the companies involved with rail seems hardly compatible with the way that industry works. If performance and punctuality is the target, the best answer is probably in investing to renew tracks, improve signaling, put in place protection systems.
That would allow, faster trains, less service disruption for maintenance, which would make punctuality and performance much easier to achieve.
You would have expected them to come with a clean maintenance record and say "sorry, the Hatfield fault went through the net and we are investigating why".
But train companies are as much to blame. I hear everywhere that the traffic is on a long term growth trend. Now, look at suburban trains. The newest on my line are 30 years old.
I have seen no NEW suburban carriage in the three years I've spent in London. Instead slam door carriages are still comon sight on the network.
Go in Paris and you'll see that the equipment is being regularly renewed. And the whole thing is managed by a monopolistic public company.
It seems than train companies compete on the stock market, not on the tracks.
I'd rather be inconvenienced for a few days
rather than a victim of another train accident.
Sad that Railtrack does not know the condition of its track however, a positive move. Perhaps Richard should do the same with his rolling stock. A better name would be "Retired" rather than "Virgin".
I find it very worrying that it has taken a tragedy such as last week's accident for the railway industry to announce that there are safety problems. Why were these not rectified years ago? I think there is a SERIOUS problem and the whole railway industry needs overhauled ... NOW!!
It was clear from Gerald Corbett's comments last week that he planned to abandon any attempt to allow operators to run a service.
It's inconceivable that these lines that were safe last week are suddenly too dangerous to operate. This is just a PR move from Railtrack to prise more money out of the taxpayers.
As a weekly user of the West Coast line on business, he decline of the state of track has been noticable to passengers in the number of sudden lurches or jolts while riding. It has been particularly obvious in the Rugby area for some time.
While the closure and diversion is very inconvenient, I believe it is right that action is being taken.
It is sad that it has to take a serious accident with tragic loss of life to get Railtrack to do what should be their routine responsibility anyway.
I'd rather take the still-tiny risk of being in a rail crash than the absolute certainty of regular delays and cancellations.
In fact, if there's a trade-off between cost, safety and reliability, I'd rather the railways were more dangerous (which would still be EXTREMELY safe), cheaper and more reliable.
Railtrack's actions are all the more worrying because they almost certainly would not have occured if it had not been for Hatfield.
I fear for the future of our railways because the only way to run a rail network is on a basis of public ownership with full, proper investment by the government on the public's behalf.
The privatisation genie was let out of the bottle and it will not be so easy to rein it in again.
Why are Railtrack getting away with this? Their single function, their purpose for being, is to maintain the tracks and ensure safety.
If they can't manage that they shouldn't be getting money from the government, they should be fined x millions for failing to meet their commitments.
They have put clearly put profits before safety and should be held responsible.
They are only doing these checks to make it look like they care, and know the delays will just help to convince passengers that they ARE doing something.
How long will it take before we get rid of Railtrack and offer the licence to someone else?
People whinge about safety and want a totally risk-free train service and then they whinge about inconvenience when steps are taken to improve safety.
While I appreciate Railtrack's concern for safety, the sudden temporary West Coast closure smacks of a panic reaction.
Although slower (and stupidly now single track over a short section) it would have presented a better solution for Glasgow passengers than sleeping in the coaches overnight at Euston!
Aberdeen , Inverness and Fort William passengers would suffer longer journeys, but could not the trains have been diverted to start from Kings Cross or the under-utilised (at night) St Pancras?
I suppose all the old excuses will be trotted out - shortage of diesel locomotives and traincrew to cope with the diversions, lack of risk assessment or no "safety case" for emergency arrangements - but emergency is what it is and more should have been done, with Railtrack in this case picking up the tab for inter-company loco and crew hire.
Unfortunately, the concept of service to customers comes a long way down the line on Britain's privatised railway and it is high time the rail regulator addressed the issue of all the obstructions there are to logical solutions being implemented in cases such as the West Coast closure.
The train service in this country is still infinitely safer than the roads, and the argument that using the trains means giving up personal control over our safety is spurious.
We don't seem to be happy unless we are complaining, naming, blaming or shaming; its very tedious.
As a former driver for British Rail and now living in Canada I can only comment that it is a sad reflection on the whole sordid affair that privatisation has brought to the network. True it may be run on a business principle but you must ask at what human cost?
Surely the powers that be must realise that it is time to take back Railtrack and the whole pitiful mass of malcontented companys back to where they should be as a national resource and integrated at that.
Not the current "blame" culture that pervades there now that prevents the sensible and safe planning of an integrated network.
I can't help but feel sorry for Railtrack - they are a business providing a service and this doesn't work when safety is involved. Imagine the criticism if they didn't close the line and then there was another "Hatfield". They MUST have good reason for their actions and I am sure they haven't been taken lightly.
Specifically, the Scotland closure would relate to a potential hazard in operation requiring immediate investigation.
As I find it impossible to believe that engineers at Railtrack do not understand these matters there are only three possibilities - the client/contractor relationship for maintenance is not set up correctly in respect of performance/penalties; the client/contractor relationship is correct but remedial work has not been done on schedule or if done has not been passed fit for repossession; or the government/Railtrack relationship inhibits essential inspection of the tracks.
If any of the above apply then eventually something has to give as it has at Hatfield.
Your decimated - or should that be desecrated - railway system can't even put up a website that can tell me how much I am going to have to pay for my ticket!
How do you expect these "private" operators to know how to deal with something as technical demanding as maintaining their track efficiently?
We all have a choice - a safe and reliable railway or an unsafe one.
There will be a delay, but there is the GSW route that will probably be used for the diversions with a small delay.
Rail remains the safest form of transport in the UK, especially when compared to the carnage on the roads which claims 3000 to 4000 lives a year.
I worked for the rail industry for 16 years in the UK.
In return we were rewarded by a steady stream of abuse by Tory politicians.
So they privatised the railway so it would be better - despite the warning that they received from British Rail on the way they were going about privatisation.
Today we find ourselves with serious accidents, line closure and a poorly maintained railway system.
We have been proven correct on what we said - it is a pity that it has cost so much in terms of life and money.
I hope those self righteous know-alls in the Tory party who are responsible for this are ashamed of themselves. I hope they are never in a position of power ever again.
If the railways in the UK are anything like the railways in NSW, then they're doomed.
Come back British Rail, all is forgiven!
Railtrack plainly now view the need to inspect these sections of track as a matter of the utmost urgency - hence the abrupt nature of today's line closure.
The fact that they were happy to run high-speed trains over these same tracks right up until the horrific ramifications of the Hatfield incident became clear for all to see is surely the most damning indictment of previous industry practice.
If all parties involved are to search their consciences - and sleep soundly at night - how many other portions of our rail network should be closed down with immediate effect?
Anyone who has ever travelled on the West Coast Main Line know that it is a shambles.
Yet, although I understand the decision by Railtrack, why wasn't the line closed last week or the companies notified last week that it would be closing.
It seems too much of a spur of the moment decision. Personally, I don't bother with trains any more, I fly. It's cheaper, easier, and a lot faster.
Few things in this life are perfect and British Rail in its 47 year tenure of the rail network adhered to this principle.
The argument may be made that this is due to problems inherited from BR but the figures on broken rails showing the huge increase in the subsequent years after privatisation discount this.
Perhaps the biggest injustice is that John Major and his government will never be called to account for their heinous decision to pursue ideology over common sense.
Simply shocking. It shows that the form of privatisation was not in the public interest.
Railtrack should be disbanded without delay.
Bring back John Welsby and his competent team.
I don't think it need take three days to check the track if Railtrack employed more people to do the checking.
Surely the revenue lost through cancelled services will be much greater than the cost to employ extra engineers to check the track, and would cause people much less hassle.
I fear that this will cost more lives than it saves.
Closing the line will inevitably force passengers on to the roads instead, and they are much more likely to die in their cars, whether or not the track's up to scratch.
However, given the immense amount of flak Railtrack would get if even one passenger died on that stretch of track, rather than as a result of being forced to go by car, I don't blame Railtrack for making that decision at all.
I agree entirely with CNS, Durham. It is very unlikely that any of these stretches of track would kill or injure anyone over the coming months.
However, it is likely that people will be killed by driving instead, by the extra congestion, or simply by getting wound up and then crossing the road outside the station.
Railtrack are just doing what the media, and apparently the public, demand - running a railway service now comes second place. I think a bit of common sense is called for.
No-one who ever drives at more than 5mph, for example, actually puts total safety above all else.
Why does it always seem to take injuries and/or deaths to make these people move.
I visit the country every year, but the last two years I have travelled by bus.
Having retired now from the permanent way gang here in Canada, I do know something about the problems and I have remarked via the mail to various companies about the state of some of the tracks ,and that is just viewing them from station platforms.
Railtrack must take all steps to ensure safety on the track and integrity for the company.
I'm afraid that the closure will cause much disruption but I'd rather three days of disruption over a lifetime of worry about my safety.
That said, Railtrack must ensure the work is conducted within the time and that this will be the most disruption seen in the near future.
Railtrack apparently don't know the condition of 40 miles of their track - that's frightening.
Luckily the trains on the West Coast line don't go very quickly.
This is a responsible decision by Railtrack in the shadow of a privatised rail network focused for too long on performance and punctuality targets.
The train operating companies' protestations are understandable, but I agree with the inherent principle behind Railtrack's decision.
I agree with David Cormie's observation of an industry focussed for too long on performance and punctuality targets. Recent events, such as Hatfield and the eviction of Connex from South Central show that the fundamental problem here is of culture.
Both these incidents expose a complete lack of pride. If Railtrack wre proud of their work they'd damn well make sure that the tracks were inspected, and that routine maintenance work was carried out correctly.
If Connex had any pride it'd have made sure its trains ran to time and provided the necessary resources possible for a decent service.
Go-Ahead, their successors in this bid, do aim to improve. Note to Go-Ahead: you shouldn't be proud of aiming to get nine out of 10 trains in on time - you should be aiming for perfection!
What the industry doesn't seem to understand is that financial incentives (whether bonuses or fines), and performance statistics, don't create an environment where companies will be motivated in the long term. Only by having a pride in what they do will they ever achieve a decent rail network!
24 Oct 00 | Scotland
Railtrack shuts West Coast mainline
25 Oct 00 | Scotland
Rail line shutdown: What they said
20 Oct 00 | Scotland
Rail routes face more disruption
19 Oct 00 | UK
Railtrack boss keeps his job
18 Oct 00 | UK
Crash track was 'not good'
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