Friday, 22 February 2019

Your letters...

Other side of the track

Sir, — I should like to clarify the events of Monday, January 21, as reported on your front page (Standard, January 25).

Some background information is, however, important for an understanding of the branch line in Shiplake.

A group of residents and I are line-side neighbours in Shiplake. We have had an arrangement for around three years, whereby we advise Great Western Railway of any horn sounded at an excessive volume.

A senior manager then speaks to the driver concerned and, in theory, the driver will sound the horn more moderately on future trips.

This informal agreement came about because, a few years ago, the use of the horn seemed to change. What had previously been a friendly toot frequently became a heart -stopping blast. Many drivers continue with the friendly toot but some do not.

This change in horn sounding was swiftly followed in 2016 by a decrease of the period in which drivers should not sound the horn, known as the night- time quiet period.

This change was introduced to protect pedestrians at footpath crossings, where there are no barriers or warning lights.

Unfortunately, it is an umbrella ruling and therefore we, with all manner of protection at the crossing, also suffer the reduced hours of peace.

Furthermore, a shuttle service was introduced last year, leading to more daytime trains, more late-night trains and hence more horns. The last one now travels through Shiplake at 12.20am.

The rule that GWR drivers must sound the horn when they are leaving the station goes back decades. The level crossing, before it had barriers, was a source of danger for all of us.

After the occurrence of two accidents, the parish council lobbied Network Rail to install barriers. These were added several years ago and the crossing has been accident-free since then.

For extra protection against misuse, we have bright yellow automatic number plate recognition cameras, CCTV cameras and wig wags to provide flashing lights and sound warnings.

One could say that the crossing is now very well protected and is no longer regarded as a dangerous crossing.

Network Rail, wishing to help residents suffering the loud horn noise, has asked the Rail Standards and Safety Board to make a change to the rule book and we are hoping that soon there will be a trial period during which drivers will no longer be required to sound the horn.

This initiative may well be rolled out nationally.

Unfortunately, changing the rule book is no small task, requiring much gathering of facts and figures and it is taking some time to achieve.

Nevertheless, it will be worth the wait as the impact of the horn on the health and general welfare of adults and young children, woken from sleep, is considerable. On Saturday, January 19 Shiplake suffered incredibly loud horns from around 9.55pm until after midnight.

We beleaguered residents wrote to GWR and asked that this particular driver should not be used on the branch line again. We were told that the driver would be spoken to.

On the following Monday evening, at the same time, the train came through Shiplake and the driver blasted in exactly the same manner as on the Saturday.

Concerned that we would all be suffering yet another disturbed night, it seemed reasonable to go out when the train returned and ask the driver to moderate the horn.

This I did in a very polite manner but the driver immediately became aggressive. We had a short conversation, during which it became obvious that this was going to achieve nothing positive.

At no time could I be accused of verbal abuse. I simply asked sensible questions and received negative answers. My last words were: “Please let us not fall out. Could you please just try?”

The driver then continued on to Twyford, where she stayed in the cab and refused to drive the train. Apparently she was too “shaken” by my supposed verbal abuse.

Nevertheless, she had mentioned to me that on the Saturday night she had experienced “drunks” leaning up against her cab, which was why she had found it necessary to sound the horn so loudly.

It is curious that a number of “drunks”, leaning against the cab and necessitating the sounding of a loud horn, caused her less anxiety than an elderly woman politely asking for respite from the horn.

Another puzzling point is that the driver stated that I “shouted” at her. This is physically impossible for me as I have had an operation that damaged my vocal cords and I cannot shout, even if I wished to.

Furthermore, I did not “storm up to her cabin”. I was standing waiting for the train to return from Henley and I simply walked up.

As for the situation at Twyford, when the driver refused to work, I am extremely sorry that this caused inconvenience to a number of passengers travelling to Henley but the delay was not of my making.

I trust this explains the events in the manner they happened and that your readers will now have an appreciation of what occurred.

My last words go to a train driver I spoke to a few weeks ago, as I walked across the station. I thanked him for his considerate use of the horn. He smiled and said, “It’s just common sense, isn’t it?” — Yours faithfully,

Vivien Pheasant

Lashbrook Road, Shiplake

Abused by train horns

Sir, — I am responding to your front page article headline “Trains axed after driver is abused”.

While I cannot comment on the severity of the alleged “shouting” by the lady in question and firmly believe that real, proven abuse should be condemned in the strongest terms, I do feel sympathy for someone who was driven to such extremes by the overly loud train horns.

As a Shiplake resident myself, living close to the rail line, I can only express how distressing and frustrating train horns can become when sounded overly loudly and so frequently.

The train horn is designed to startle people who might have ventured on to the line. It is supposed to scare and get the heart racing — and that is exactly what many families living close to the rail line from Henley to Twyford have to endure every half hour from 6am to midnight every day.

Your article pointed out the recent increase in train frequency and the reduction of the night-time quiet period which now only allows residents to sleep undisturbed for six hours per night.

These changes have led to chronic sleep deprivation and exhaustion for adults and children alike.

This is abuse, real and constant, endured by many local residents.

Despite the heroic efforts of a small group of Shiplake residents to raise the issue with Great Western Railway and Network Rail for the past few years, progress has been very slow and, if anything, the situation is getting worse.

I believe drivers have been briefed repeatedly to sound the horn more discreetly. When that is the case, it makes the world of difference to us, the affected families.

Sadly, other drivers seem to ignore/forget that advice and sound the horn as loudly as they can no matter what.

I guess that poor lady just could not take it anymore... — Yours faithfully,

Nathalie McClure


Only option is no Brexit

Sir, — Firstly, I thank Ken Stevens for innocently illustrating the point of my last letter that we are a hopelessly divided nation.

This was the result of an in/out referendum without terms of reference and misleading rhetoric by politicians and even deliberate lies.

Theresa May inherited this toxic challenge and has tried to defend it but it is indefensible and in doing so she has created this shambolic mess.

Over the last 18 months, we have become even more divided such that now we are virtually paralysed by a dogmatic Prime Minister who has no support for her deal and a government so hopelessly divided that it has lost control and is unable to govern.

Over the last nine months I have argued that a people’s vote is both democratic and necessary to decide our future.

However, although another vote is necessary, my fear is that it will not result in a sufficient margin to be meaningful and therefore will not advance the dilemma of division.

This leaves us with three options:

1) To leave with no deal.

2) To hold a decisive second referendum.

3) To cancel Brexit.

Option 1 has already been voted unacceptable (although not binding) in an amendment in parliament and is considered by most as the worst possible outcome.

It is gambling with our future. It is promoted by the popular press as it makes the press barons super rich and the rich even richer by avoiding tax, while the poorest become poorer and rely on food banks and charity just to survive.

To leave with no deal will cost us billions while other priorities are neglected. It is a policy based on hopes and dreams and has no basis of reliable predictability.

There was never a workable plan to satisfy the “will of the people” and after two-and-a-half years nothing has changed.

Theresa May’s latest tactic is trying to run down the clock until March 29, such that her deal is approved in panic. That is unacceptable.

Boris Johnson’s latest suggestion to threaten the EU by not paying our dues is childish and does not uphold British values. He typifies the bully in the playground who finds himself on the losing side and walks off with the ball.

I have therefore concluded (somewhat reluctantly) that the logical option with no consensus is to cancel Article 50 and thereby Brexit.

It would be highly divisive but it would restore some kind of normality. Whatever the course of action, it will take years to heal the damage done by our inept politicians. There is no better deal than the one that we have as part of the EU.

I have written to the European Commission, urging them to make the necessary reforms to unite us as a powerful embracing community with influence in world affairs.

Give them time and if nothing changes leaving will still be an option for the future.

Regarding our security, NATO is our defensive force but only politics can defend us from extreme Right-wing ambition that is our greatest current threat.

Regarding Douglas Kedge’s letter about long letters, I can only conclude that he has not yet grasped the gravity of the situation.

Local issues may be okay in normal times but here we are facing the most significant decision in the last 70 or more years.

If we go on like this, the Brexit chaos will drag on without an end in sight.

If Brexit wasn’t happening, you couldn’t make up such a farcical state of affairs. — Yours faithfully,

Edward G Hallett

Longfield Road, Twyford

I bet Brexit will be okay

Sir, — I’m afraid that in his haste to demonstrate his “remoaner” credentials, Tom Fort cannot have read my letter properly (Standard, January 25).

I presented no view of a paradise here post-Brexit, although I am looking forward to a renaissance of British individualism across all classes and cultures and across all four nations.

In summary, I asked why anyone from a strong nation would want to join the EU in which we can see:

• Economies with serious endemic problems all trapped in the single currency.

• Huge levels of unemployment, especially in all the Mediterranean members.

• Rapid growth of neo-Nazi parties in almost every country.

The only countries still wanting to join the EU, such as Ukraine and Turkey, are hotbeds of corruption and seriously lacking in democracy.

We have voted to escape all this before it falls apart and escape we must on March 29.

Having studied and actively opposed the EU for some 38 years and then voted Leave for the sake of my grandchildren’s futures, I was much offended by Tom Fort’s condescending tone.

As duelling to settle points of honour is no longer legal, I must offer him a different challenge — a public wager of £500 that says that any minor disruptions to our way of life (such as those postulated by the Government’s Project Fear) will have disappeared within 30 days of Brexit day.

The winner to donate 90 per cent of his winnings to a local charity and buy a meal for the loser with the rest.

It may be worth noting that in my correspondence with you I have never written from or referred to my post in Sonning Common where I pride myself on my impartiality.

I would have very much preferred that this connection had not been made so public by Tom Fort as I have no wish to embarrass the council. — Yours faithfully,

Philip Collings

Peppard Common

Air pollution is killing us

Sir, — To the recent idlers in the King’s Road car park in Henley who have told us clean air ambassadors to “get a life” when we have politely asked parked drivers to stop idling their cars, the answer is we do currently have a life.

However, if you look at the national statistics on air pollution and assume Henley has a population of 12,000, then statistically eight people in Henley die every year as a result of air pollution.

This is not to mention those affected by heart and lung disease as well as dementia. — Yours faithfully,

Ramsay F Adams

Ravenscroft Road, Henley

Upside of closure...

Sir, — I have just been notified that my bank, Santander, is to close at the end of May. Such a shame!

Still, that does mean there will be an empty shop in Henley town centre — just right for a new coffee shop/nail bar/charity shop. Whoopee. — Yours faithfully,

Sue Vivian-Wright

Greys Road, Henley

Woodland writings

Sir, — I used to live in Reading and am now in Canada.

We have lots of trees of course but I relish the writings of Vincent Ruane on the present state of local woodlands around Henley.

It is unfortunate the rural pubs are disappearing but it appears the woodlands are still going strong.

Mr Ruane is a compelling writer and a credit to your paper. — Yours faithfully,

Michael Hockney

Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Thanks... you saved my foot

Sir, — I would like to express my thanks to Louise and Rianna in the podiatry department at Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley.

Through their care and dedication, they have saved me from losing my foot.

It would be good for them to have the recognition they deserve. Thank you once again. — Yours faithfully,

Pete Goddard

Gainsborough Crescent, Henley

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