True stories from the Great Railway Disaster

No 70: so you want information?
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The Independent Online
Berkshire County Council recently commissioned a rail study of the Reading area in order to look at ways of getting people out of their cars and on to trains. The researchers wanted information about local rail use and investment plans from railway companies.

However, when the researchers approached the two train operating companies providing the bulk of services in the area, Thames and Great Western, they were told that the figures on patronage were "commercially confidential" and had to be kept private.

Similarly, when Railtrack was asked about its local investment plans, the researchers were told that the information was "commercially sensitive" and could not be given to them during the privatisation process.

Stuart White, a Berkshire county councillor, said that the study was intended to identify potential sites for new stations or the need for investment in improvements: "The study was made more difficult by the uncertainty over privatisation and the lack of information because of it. Funnily enough, after the study was published, someone from Railtrack rang up and said how useful it was."

The Independent on Sunday's Great British Rail Disaster by Christian Wolmar, which includes 60 items from this column, is to be published in late May by Ian Allan at pounds 5.99. Independent on Sunday readers can obtain advance copies of the book for pounds 4.99 by sending a cheque or postal order, or a Visa/Access authorisation, to the Great British Railway Disaster, Ian Allan Ltd, Coombelands House, Coombelands Lane, Addlestone, Surrey, KT15 1HY.

Cheques will not be cashed until the books are despatched just after publication. Offer closes on 31 May.