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Our Government should proactively support the European rail reform …

The Single Market in railways is an important part of why it is so essential for the UK to remain a full member of the European Union. It is not only that we have a good railway system in the UK which comes near the top of the European Commission s regular survey of passenger opinion, but where rail passenger and freight traffic has grow by some 60% since privatisation (I am chairman of the Rail Freight Group). Equally important, our railway supply industry and train operators want to do more business exporting to or operating in other member states, and we have a lot to offer.

Unfortunately, many member states railways are almost closed to companies from other states or retain effective monopolies to preserve their own incumbent operator. Some of this is blatant (French rail operator SNCF has stated that its proposed rail reform is designed to keep out competition and Germans in particular); in Germany, the European Commission has for some time sought infraction proceedings against anti-competitive or illegal practices which disadvantage other operators, and only last week the German Competition Authority (Bundeskartelampt) announced an investigation about why independent passenger operators are prevented from selling tickets through DB station outlets. It is a sad reflection that there are few other independent operators which have not over the years been bought up by incumbents.

Some do well, but there is a serious lack of competition in the sector which, coupled with structures which allow vertical integration (one owner of the track and train operation) competition becomes sometimes very unfair and difficult; not the kind of a situation that encourages private investment and growth. Thus, the European Commission s Fourth Railways Package is designed to bring liberalisation and the single market to the rail sector; perhaps, unsurprisingly, parts of it are opposed by several member states, led by Germany and France, but the European Parliament Transport and Tourism Committee (TRAN), after some lengthy debates, did approve this package of measures to go forward to a vote in Plenary session in late February or early March to make some progress before parliament closes for elections in May. Some 18 independent passenger and freight operators from across Europe, as well as customers and associations, have signed a letter (attached) on 1 February urging all MEPs to support the version of the 4th Railway Package as voted by a good majority in TRAN on 17 December.

It is also important that the UK government, on whose rail structure much of the EU legislation is based, fully supports the 4th Railway Package in the Council. Of course, it should take a lead in support of UK companies, but often appears hesitant; perhaps this is part of the Conservative party s attempt to disengage with Europe . Whatever the reason, it does not serve UK business well.

e140131 letter to MEPs on 4th Railway Package.1 1 References ^ e140131 letter to MEPs on 4th Railway Package.1 (lordsoftheblog.net)

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Our Government should proactively support the European rail reform …

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Getting to the Isles of Scilly an expensive an unrelaible monopoly …

Sitting in the brand new terminal building at Land s End Airport, Gateway to the Scilly Isles, on 28 December makes one reflect on the poor service provided by the monopoly air and sea transport company, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company. There is no passenger sea ferry at this time of year, except for the Gry Maritha, which takes freight and up to 12 passengers at the Captain s discretion ; this relates to whether those unaccustomed to small ship travel would be at risk of hitting the ceiling when the ship went down a wave! Otherwise, you go by air from the grass landing strip at Land s End or Newquay International, famous for the most rigorous and unnecessary security checks in the country with a very long surfaced runway and miles from any public transport.

The lovely new terminal at Land s End is certainly good for waiting for flights; perhaps that is why the Steamship Company built it rather than make do with the old terminal and build a surfaced runway so that planes could land and take off when it was wet. Last year (2012/3) Land s End airport was closed for more than 50 days due to waterlogged ground, and also sometimes for fog. This year, it has been good up to Christmas, but the wet has now set in.

It has rained hard off and on all week, although with less severe weather than in the South East of England, so we arrive at Lands End airport for our flight to St Marys expecting a calm and peaceful 20 minute flight. No such luck! The ground was declared waterlogged, so passengers for the first three flights are put in a bus to Newquay airport, a good hour away.

We, booked on later flights, sit in the airport waiting, with no information about if and when we will fly, no Wi-Fi (why would one want Wi-Fi when one passes through the airport so quickly?) or information by public address system, and a good view of the Islander planes that could be taking us to Scilly except it is too wet to take off! Given the frequency of wet weather delays, one might suggest that the planes should be parked at a runway which was not so weather susceptible for example St Mary s or Newquay, so that, in the event of it being too wet to fly from Land s End, one could at least have more planes to take passengers from Newquay to St Mary s. There are people wanting to travel home, to Scilly for the New Year, in fact the general demand for travel that people elsewhere take for granted.

Here, in addition to fares of 80 single by plane, one has the added benefit of sitting around looking at two or three stranded planes and a complete lack of passenger information that is taken for granted on other more normal air or rail services. In the end, we got on the bus to Newquay and, after numerous delays, arrived at the beautifully lit up St Mary s airport (sunset was thankfully postponed for us to land!), thankful that we had not shared the fate of all those families who had booked on afternoon flights who have been told to come back the next day. Of course, Land s End Runway was supposed to have been given a hard surface in November but the Isles of Scilly Council seems to have forgotten to sign a contract with a contractor.

Even with a surfaced runway, there will be inevitable delays due to fog or high winds and better customer information and service is badly needed.

And ministers still say that the transport system to Scilly has not failed?

They should try it!

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Getting to the Isles of Scilly an expensive an unrelaible monopoly …

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