It’s surely an indication of the desperation in the anti-railway camp that Tom Douglas (letters, March 29) is reduced to quoting train fares in Switzerland as a means of rubbishing the Borders railway.
Taking what he says at face value, no one in Switzerland would ever use the train, but the reality is that the country has the most comprehensive and best-used rail network in Europe.
A cursory look at the Swiss Federal Railways website reveals that far from being unaffordable, a combination of railcards and day passes makes the train a cheap option for two people travelling together – I somehow doubt that he had to queue behind many Swiss to pick up his hire car.
What I find most bizarre about Mr Douglas’s letter is that someone who can afford to holiday in one of Europe’s most expensive winter resorts would prefer, for the sake of saving a few pounds, to endure the discomfort of the bus journey to Edinburgh, rather than opting for a much faster, more comfortable train when the railway returns to the Borders. Not that it’s obvious from his letter whether he has any actual experience of using the X95 at present and his apparent enthusiasm for buses smacks more of trying to give the Borders Party some street credibility – shades of David Cameron and pasties.
Come to think of it, though, a pasty might not be a bad idea for sustenance on the X95’s seemingly interminable trundle through Midlothian and Edinburgh. Just the other afternoon, when returning from Edinburgh, the bus limped into Newtongrange some 50 minutes after leaving the bus station and I could not help reflecting (having had to stand most of the way) that with a train I would already be enjoying the fine weather at home rather than sweltering in discomfort on an overcrowded bus.
If the latter is what Mr Douglas prefers, he is welcome to it.
Brave Mr Douglas, driving all these mountainous miles.
I checked on Zermatt-Martigny (not Martini, though it’s a nice thought) on the Swiss railway website. Full fares on one of the most spectacularly engineered railways in Europe, descending 3,300 metres, can be cut – there are half-price railcards, tourist tickets and two-for-one offers.
Mr Douglas cites, as too many motorists tend to do, the cost of car hire and petrol, but not that of the driver (Incidentally, how did he get a car into Zermatt? They’re barred.).
A more accurate comparison would be that of hiring a four-wheel-drive taxi to Edinburgh, which I had to do when snow paralysed the X95 buses for weeks in early 2010. The cost of this 35-mile return journey came to £120. Transfer this to Zermatt-Martigny (66 miles) and the hit would be £226, or 317 Swiss francs.
The Swiss, a businesslike lot, regard train-travel time as working time, and driving time as wasted time.
Mr Douglas’s strenuous motoring Utopia will fall off the road with peak oil. In my history of North Sea oil, Fool’s Gold (Penguin, 1994), I thought the $200 barrel 40 years off – it could be with us in weeks. But its shadow is already visible in relative gross domestic product per capita – Switzerland $45,500, UK $36,300 and falling. Rail doesn’t just make sense – it’s the only long-term option we’ve got.
High Cross Avenue
Tom Douglas really should not be allowed a stick to beat the Borders railway project by using a spurious comparison with Switzerland.
The demands placed on travel routes across the Alps are in a different league to traversing the Moorfoot Hills. With one of the densest and best-used rail maps in Europe, the Swiss – sensible people – are not trapped by the siren call of the roads lobby.
As Mr Douglas is one of a minority of pensioners who can actually afford a holiday in Switzerland, he is evidently a taxpayer. As such, he needs to reflect that his contributions go toward the support of a national network whose use he would deny to Borderers – particularly to those who are becoming priced out of car ownership. The new railway will “pay” in the sense that it adds value to that network and the service it provides.
A search of Wikipedia and a large-scale map of Switzerland have failed to reveal the whereabouts of a place called Martini, 95 kilometres from Zermatt. Perhaps it is just a hamlet, the peace of which is only broken by the sound of cow bells.
Equally opaque is his contention that 90 per cent of Borderers will use their car in preference to the Edinburgh-Tweedbank line. He should quote the market research on which this is based lest he is suspected of clawing the figure out of the air.
(vice-chair, Campaign for Borders Rail)