Letters: The cost of a railway in fragments


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Christian Wolmar comments (9 March) that the most obvious way of reducing the cost of Britain's railways would be some form of reintegration. Indeed it is surprising that while Sir Roy McNulty determined that our railways cost about 30 per cent more than others in Western Europe, he didn't try to get to the bottom of why this should be.

In Germany and Holland the nationalised railways were not divided up into more than 100 separate units, as happened here, and their state companies – the DB and the NS – were allowed to compete for franchises, something that BR was prohibited from doing. So for instance in Holland NS Reizigers (the Dutch Railways' passenger train company) still operates many of the train services, along with Arriva, Syntus, Veolia and others.

One could not think of a more disjointed, dysfunctional structure for railways than the one we've got in Britain, and that to a large degree is why they are so expensive. It's sad that our politicians are so frightened of losing face by admitting that they got it very wrong in 1993. We have to live with this mess and pay for the consequences.

Ian K Watson


When I read your article on the McNulty report (9 March), I despaired. What does someone from the aviation industry know about running railways? Compare my experience on a delayed British Airways flight out of Manchester with how East Coast mainline dealt with a delay.

At Manchester on 6 February I was herded on to an already late flight. After boarding, the pilot announced there was no take-off slot for two hours. I had checked my luggage so I was not allowed to leave the plane. I missed my connection at Heathrow and at Terminal 5 was directed (with many of my fellow passengers) to the wrong queue by ground staff. After two hours in the right queue I gave up, forfeited my £500 fare and came home on the train.

At Kings Cross on 5 March the delay, due to a cracked rail at Newark, was announced on the information board. We left for Newcastle at 8pm, on time, but slowed to a standstill at Newark. Before York an announcement was made that passengers with onward connections should speak to the conductor, who was coming through the train. A further announcement was made that transport by road had been arranged and passengers should contact station staff on arrival. Passengers with connections at Darlington were dealt with in the same way.

Of course, if the railway system had not been fragmented, the local trains would have been held for the odd 10 minutes.

I did write to BA to complain but have received no reply from its mis-named Customer Service department.

Isabel Garford

Newcastle upon Tyne

It is no surprise that at certain times of day there is greater demand for train services; it is hardly a new phenomenon. Rather than supply sufficient capacity, the companies act as if they are doing passengers a huge favour by running any trains at all.

S Lawton

Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Hackers put an industry on the alert

LulzSec's role in securing the online world in recent times has been somewhat unconventional. To many they are simply criminal hackers ("The master hacktivist turned FBI supergrass", 8 March). However, they see themselves as modern-day activists, putting right perceived moral wrongs in the corporate world and in some Western governments.

An extremely talented group of individuals, LulzSec have used innovative techniques to access secure digital data which has tested the protective skills of many hardened security professionals. Although their actions are alleged to have breached the bounds of legality, the skills demonstrated are such that in normal society they would be a power for good.

LulzSec has kept the security sector on its toes in a way that has meant corporate security is now so much better, with constant vigilance and less complacency.

Anonymous attacks, on the other hand, have been largely brute force denial-of-service attacks that should be easily countered but which have enjoyed an exposure by the media that was not merited. LulzSec's removal from the online environment is likely to clear the fog significantly in terms of cybercrime, making it easier to establish where future cyber attacks come from.

The legacy of LulzSec is that they woke corporate organisations up to the importance of security and the need to be on guard at all times – something which we must ensure continues beyond what is surely the end of this organisation.

Neil Fisher

Vice-president, Unisys,

Uxbridge, Middlesex

Maths talent thrown away

Dr Mark Boylen's letter regarding standards in mathematics (6 March) seemed to be rooted in the mantra that there has not been a decline in educational standards in this country. If the starting point is taken as 10 or 20 years ago, it might be true. Take a baseline of 50 or 60 years ago, and a very different picture emerges.

In 1952, I sat my O-levels. The syllabus in mathematics included arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, plane geometry, coordinate geometry and calculus, both differential and integral. No Year-11 child today could possibly cope with that level; indeed, he or she would not be required even to know the existence of the word "calculus", leave alone what it was.

One of my school friends from a very ordinary working-class background who rose through a brilliant career to a professorship had to spend a large part of the first year of degree courses in electronics teaching his students the mathematics they needed to be able to cope with the course, because the comprehensive education system failed to build on the aptitude of today's youngsters.

It must be beyond argument that there are children blessed with amazing potential equal to that of their predecessors of 60 years ago, and we are throwing away this valuable asset by the steady depression of syllabi for a meaningless drive for equality and "prizes for all".

C J Morris

Waterlooville, Hampshire

Hello, this is the hospital robot

I was at my father-in-law's home the other day and the phone rang. An automated voice said it was the hospital phoning and asked him to press various options ("1 for this, 2 for that") and also asked him to key in his date of birth to prove his identity.

As he's over 80 and hard of hearing this was a struggle. Ten minutes later the purpose of this robot's call was revealed: to remind him of a hospital appointment he had next week.

What staggers me is that a well-paid manager somewhere dreamt this up and believed it was a good idea. What's more, other managers no doubt approved this at a meeting and no one said: "Stop. This is wrong. We shouldn't treat people like this."

And with head-banging irony, the computerised voice said at the end that the "conversation" might be recorded for training purposes. Oh, I wish.

Alan Cleaver

Whitehaven, Cumbria

Look at the facts on the ground

Joshua Rowe is illogical in citing Palestinian actions in 1967 as evidence for Palestinian motives today (Letter, 8 March). Never mind that he gets those actions wrong.

UN resolution 242 not only specified land for peace, but also for each state to remain within its borders. Israel did not then, and has not at any point since, ever offered to give up all the Occupied Territories. It has always chipped away at the edges of such moves, promising some land but not all, or offering access to land, but not relinquishing control of it.

Meanwhile, the occupation and settlement continue. Just look at a map of the settlements on the West Bank, some of which are so far east they are almost in Jordan. Israel is in the process of annexing and annihilating another country through military force. Why pretend anything else?

Hanbury Hampden-Turner

London SW6

Beyond the Last Chance Saloon

I am sceptical about the Press Complaints Commission's decision to wind itself up and have its successor "in place and functioning well ahead of the first draft and any early recommendations from Lord Justice Leveson" (report, 8 March).

The successor will no doubt be another creature owned, managed and run by the press, another spin of the discredited wheel of self-regulation in an industry which is manifestly immune to whatever modest amount of discipline may be imposed by self-regulation.

If Lord Justice Leveson says self-regulation has utterly failed and what is needed is statutory independent regulation, no doubt the cry will be: "But look, we've only just set up the Press Regulatory Commission (or whatever) and it must be given a chance to prove it can work."

Changing the name and doing the same will convince no one.

Steve Hill


In brief...

The lesson of Iran

That there is an intimate relationship between nuclear power and nuclear weapons can never be seriously disputed in future, in view of the international furore over Iran's pursuit of nuclear power (leading article, 7 March).

This controversy underlines the need of the world to rid itself of nuclear power as well as nuclear arsenals, both of which are unsafe on a mega-death scale, horrendously expensive and irresponsibly profligate of limited resources.

Jim McCluskey

Twickenham, Middlesex

Take a joke

I have been an Independent reader since the first issue. I hear that Deborah Ross is getting flak from some folk about her recent columns. They obviously have had any sense of humour and of proportion surgically removed at birth. I think she is a brilliant writer and you are lucky to have her, so I hope you will do all you can to support her. Having been the target myself of personal abuse through being involved in local politics, I know how unpleasant it can be.

Ed Sharkey

Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire

Not hated – yet

Although bad manners are rife in today's society, it is not at all evident that there is a "hatred of old dears" (Geraldine Bedell, 1 March). However, tackling the perceived problem with legislation, as for racism and sexism, will ensure that there will be.

Vanessa Mayes

Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Media story

Well done to Robert Fisk (3 March) for speaking out about the way the media has reported the killing of several journalists in war zones. Brave reporters and photographers, I am sure, but what is so special about them over and above the hundreds of ordinary people that are being killed every week in their home towns and cities? When the media becomes the story, then it's lost the plot.

Jane Talbot

Isleworth, Middlesex

Law of the sea

The recent correspondence about the rights and duties of cetaceans clearly shows that laws made for man are not fit for porpoise.

David Ridge

London N19

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