3rd November 2008
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Make the train take the strain by David Callam

NETWORK Rail is to receive £27 billion over the next five years to improve the efficiency of our train services.

Among other major projects, the money includes an allocation to complete work on the Thameslink services that connect places like Croydon and Sutton directly with St Pancras International.

Originally a millennium project called Thameslink 2000, the work will finally be finished by 2020, allowing south Londoners to travel without changes to places like Cambridge.

But what will Network Rail do about accessibility?

My local station, South Croydon, has recently been the subject of a substantial wash and brush up, with a new car park and a concourse added in front of the booking hall.

There has also been a liberal application of paint in certain quarters, but the building is no more accessible to wheelchair users, parents with buggies or even those of us who use suitcases on wheels than it was to our Victorian forefathers.

Access to the platforms in via a subterranean passage reached by steep steps that are unevenly spaced and the suburban trains that serve the station are substantially higher than the platforms.

Compare all this with the accessibility of a tram in Croydon and you begin to see how far short the railways fall of public expectations.

Accepting that Network Rail is grappling with the limitations of a Victorian infrastructure, I suspect there are solutions to all these problems if enough money is made available.

South Croydon's Dickensian underground access could be replaced with ramps or spirals, eliminating the steps, while a realignment of the tracks would presumably bring carriages down to platform levels.

Of course it will be more expensive than a few new lights and a lick of paint, but we are investing in the future here.

We are all gradually coming to realise that the car is not an appropriate means of transport in densely populated areas, but it will be a tough sell to persuade people to forsake the comfort of their personal tin box for a communal commute.

We stand the best chance of succeeding if we make public transport as convenient and reliable as possible - and that means the whole experience, from door to door.

Croydon Eye is a weekly commentary written exclusively for The Best of Croydon by David Callam and posted in the blog section every Thursday.

David Callam is a freelance journalist and the former business editor of The Croydon Advertiser. For more examples of his work and to see what he could do for your business please visit www.callamedia.co.uk

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