Naked truth

IT WAS a case of the bare necessities for members of the Ashwell and Morden Rail User Group as they staged a protest against plans to cut fast trains to London. First Capital Connect (FCC) will end the 7.03am train to King s Cross stopping at Ashwell sta

IT WAS a case of the bare necessities for members of the Ashwell and Morden Rail User Group as they staged a protest against plans to cut fast trains to London.

First Capital Connect (FCC) will end the 7.03am train to King's Cross stopping at Ashwell station on December 10 in an attempt to solve overcrowding issues.

The move has been met with criticism from the residents who use the service.

And to show their concern five commuters braved the cold and demonstrated the lengths to which they will go to keep the service.

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Dressed in nothing more than socks, shoes and bowler hats, protesters covered their modesty with customised newspapers spelling out the campaign call: Save Our Fast Train.

One of the naked commuters said: "We are going to substantial lengths to keep this train and we wanted to show the people at First Capital Connect that we are determined and they will see how we feel about losing the service.

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"Hopefully they will realise just how serious we are, because I don't think they have any idea the affect this will have on us. What they are seeing is five brave chaps standing up for something they believe in."

He added: "We didn't mind stripping off too much and I suppose it will be a shock for a few people - and that includes FCC. It was fun and we may do something like this again - but we definitely won't be posing for an Ashwell Commuters Calendar.

"I hope that the people at FCC take it in good spirits and realise that it's nothing nasty. After several meetings with them, we just wanted to show the strength of the village in action."

Commuters from Ashwell and the Mordens have met with FCC managing director Elaine Holt in a series of question-and-answer sessions, but despite talks the rail chief remains adamant that the 7.03 service will not stop at Ashwell and Morden.

However, commuters remain optimistic that the decision will be reversed.

The naked commuter said: "We have met with Elaine and she has told us that they will be looking at the situation again in the new year. They have been very co-operative and they have taken the time to listen to our views. However, we still haven't heard what we want to hear and until we do we will continue to fight."

In a timetable reshuffle it is not only the 7.03 that has been affected. There are also plans to replace the 8.03, 16.45 and 18.15 fast trains with slower services. Several more trains face changes in the December 2007 timetable.

The rail user group is also currently in the process of presenting a petition to FCC and have already sent letters to MPs Oliver Heald and Andrew Lansley.

A spokesperson for First Capital Connect said: "We take feedback from customers very importantly and we work closely with rail user groups. Through this amendment to the timetable, we are trying to develop a service that balances the needs of all customers along the Cambridge route.

"Capacity during peak travel periods is of key importance and we are limited in what options we can adopt to improve travelling trains in peak periods.

"The change that we are making is a response to the overcrowding on the 06.45 departure from Cambridge, and although customers from Ashwell and Morden may see this change as a decline in the timetable, we believe that it is of benefit to the majority of customers on the route."

Sarah Duckett, for the Ashwell and Morden Rail User Group, said: "As a rural community, we are concerned that our service is being downgraded and that we are being discriminated against.

"The loss of the fast train service from Ashwell to London will have a direct impact on our quality of life and we urge First Capital Connect to reconsider its decision.

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