Rail capacity row continues

PUBLISHED: 10:47 29 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:36 06 May 2010

SIR – For the sanity of your readers, if not my own, I m tempted to suggest Ross Middleton and I should agree to differ over the ongoing capacity saga on our railway line and whether Helioslough s 12 daily freightliners can get in and out of Radlett (see

SIR - For the sanity of your readers, if not my own, I'm tempted to suggest Ross Middleton and I should agree to differ over the ongoing capacity saga on our railway line and whether Helioslough's 12 daily freightliners can get in and out of Radlett (see Herts Advertiser October 22 for the last instalment).

Unfortunately it cannot be so easily shelved, for it's becoming a key factor in the forthcoming inquiry.

Mr Middleton continues to talk about other routes and fantasy freight trains speeding along the fast lines, which, of course, cannot serve the proposed terminal - so what's the point?

His latest logic, that because FCC's timetable off-peak repeats itself every 15 minutes, this somehow now throws up "actually four" freight train paths each hour, is flawed.

It just doesn't work like that with realistic working timetables. As for the changes on the East Coast Mainline (Hull, Leeds, GNER, etc.) these were different circumstances, and open access considerations. Best not go there!

So back to reality - and Radlett. And note I'm talking about Helioslough's trains, not freight capacity in general.

Take a look at section 7.2.50 of the planning committee agenda papers for the meeting held on July 20, 2009. There the actual available pathways, or slots, into the terminal cross over the slow line between 10am-3pm are detailed. There are just four, and only at a pinch, with notes such as there's a "complete lack of margin for performance pertubation". In plain English, that means it's risky - and could cause delays.

And there you have it. And this is calculated from the existing timetable before any extra FCC (Thameslink Programme) services get introduced and any other freight and passenger services provided for.

So whatever fantastic figures Mr Middleton calculates for speeds and freight train capacity, in the case of Helioslough and Radlett, unless they can get in and out of the depot without causing tailbacks and delays, their plan is flawed.

All is not lost - yet. At the pre-inquiry meeting on October 8 the inspector, a Mr Mead, clearly stated he wanted to hear about the pathway issues and how the terminal would work. And, he added, whether this meant 2am nighttime workings so as to get the trains in and out. Hallelujah! Eureka even! He, it seems, has "got it"!

Some more facts: I understand Passenger Focus has commented, London TravelWatch perhaps has yet to do so and represent its rail users; ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies) has certainly made representation, which includes FCC, East Midlands Trains and other companies, including freight.

As for the compensation process, I understand it only too well. One of the less successful aspects of rail privatisation, rail companies may well fork out compensation to customers for delays, but they often claim this back from Network Rail afterwards because of infrastructure or operational problems - which would include an unreliable timetable. It's an accountant's dream but a taxpayer's nightmare as Network Rail is taxpayer-funded. It is reliability and punctuality passengers want, not a penalty process which implies failure by delay and inconvenience.

But that's this? Mr Middleton and I do agree on something! It's road congestion caused by the rail freight terminal. Mark my works, if this so-called strategic rail freight depot does get built, there's every chance the rail aspect won't be able to deliver. Then what do we get?

More lorries, more congestion, more pollution. More misery.

You've been warned. Be at that inquiry's start on November 24.


Fishpool Street, St Albans

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