READING FESTIVAL-GOERS FACE TRANSPORT NIGHTMARE

Traffic chaos expected as the main train route from London is closed...

CARLING WEEKEND READING festival-goers are facing transport chaos after rail authorities decided to close the main LONDON to READING line for repairs on the August Bank Holiday weekend.

Fifty-thousand music fans descended on Reading over the festival weekend last year, and the train from Paddington is the best means of transport to the event from London.

Motoring organisations and the rail company who operate the route have voiced their disgust at the decision by Network Rail, who are responsible for the upkeep of railway tracks, to close the line.

And Transport 2000, a national environmental transport lobbying body, described it as “the worst-timed piece of rail maintenance work of the year”.

Network Rail was made aware by the organisers and Reading Borough Council that the festival is being held that weekend, but nevertheless insist that there will be less people using the route on the Bank Holiday weekend than on a normal commuting day.

“We carry out engineering work at times when the network is as quiet as possible. There will be half as many people, even with the festival going on,” a spokesperson for Network Rail told NME.COM. “That section of track is quite seriously deteriorating, and if we did not replace it then, it would result in temporary speed restrictions.”

Weekend tickets for the Festival sold out weeks ago, and day tickets are expected to sell out well in advance. An alternative train will run from Waterloo Station, but this route takes 40 minutes longer, and the trains are less frequent. NME understands that there will be additional trains put on, running earlier and later in the day, to try and alleviate the bottleneck of festival-bound punters.

The fact that the track does need to be repaired has not been disputed, but the timing has been criticised, as it is not a normal Bank Holiday Weekend.

“It’s critical that when there are large masses of people at, for example, a rock festival, that public transport is on hand to offer sufficient service,” Steve Hounsham>, communications manager of Transport 2000, said.

“It seems to be the worst possible time of the year for rail maintenance work. It is a great shame. Inevitably it will push people on to the roads. It really is bad news. It’s a fundamental thing that when there are large gatherings, public transport must be able to cope.”

Rebecca Rees, spokesperson for the AA, said that an increase in traffic in the town on the festival weekend would be disastrous. “They could have chosen a better weekend, it seems a daft time to do it,” she said. “Doing the repairs on any weekend is going to upset someone, but this is one weekend which is heavily reliant on the trains, and it does seem an inappropriate time to do repairs.”

She added: “During the festival on any normal year traffic in the town is chaotic enough. If there are fewer trains, there will be a lot more cars this year, and it will take people much longer to get to the festival. I hope the organisers will also allow for more parking space.”

Martin Walter, spokesperson for Thames Trains, who normally run the Paddington to Reading route, said they were as unhappy about the line closure as the music fans, as they will be losing money on a peak weekend. But it is out of their hands. “It’s not desperately satisfactory from our point of view or your readers’,” he said. “At the end of the day, when we get these problems as a train operator, we lose money.

>”We’ve talked about this and debated it, and discussed whether the timing is right, but Network Rail who own the track decided they want to repair it that weekend.”

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