Green issues

Sir - Articles in your November 1996 issue on train noise raise the issue of ’greens’ causing railway operators excessive costs, although they fail conspicuously to complain so vociferously about road noise. Here in the US the words are the same, the melody just a bit different. Too many rail proposals have been besieged by not-in-my-back-yard types who have stopped good rail projects and forced road alternatives.

In Washington, the reauthorisation of the ISTEA Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act is a hot item for Congress in 1997. It is of great importance to keep all provisions for ’flex funding’ so that a road project can be changed to rail, although naturally some parties wish to strike out this provision. The battle lines are drawn and the next few months will be critical.

Environmental activists opposing new railway projects should be made aware that rail travel uses less energy, is less polluting and requires less land than comparable road schemes. Rail is also a proper tool for land use planning. The greens should either put up or shut up.

William R Wright

Cranford, New Jersey, USA

Still an island

Sir - Travelling by train in Britain makes you think about how different Britain is - at least when it comes to track maintenance. In January 1997 I used Gatwick Express from Gatwick Airport to London Victoria, a straightforward journey just as the brochure described it. But going in the other direction on a Sunday was an entirely different matter.

According to the Gatwick Express leaflet, there should have been trains leaving Victoria at 00, 15, 30, 45 minutes past each hour, with a 30min journey time, but beware 35min on Sundays. So if I left Victoria at 08.45, I should be at Gatwick at 09.20 with plenty of time for my 10.20 flight. But no! Arriving at Victoria at 08.35 I was shocked to see that trains were departing at 00 and 30, with a 50min journey time! 50 min became 53, and I arrived panting at the airport - only just in time to catch the plane.

To the continental visitor this practice, obviously quite common in Britain, is absolutely outrageous. Despite serious attempts at making the timetable more complicated no continental railway (not even the French) has deviated from the basic idea that the running time from A to B is the same every day of the week and that track maintenance must take this into account. How the private train operating companies can continue to accept this probably 19th century nonsense from Railtrack escapes me. I will certainly think twice before travelling on Railtrack metals on a Sunday!

Bertil Hylén

Linkøping, Sweden