Britain, railways, what is the score?

OK so yesterday saw the publication of the superbly named HLOS (high Level Output Specification) and SOFA (Statement Of Funds Available) for the railways for the period 2014-19.  The headlines were eagerly grabbed by Messrs Cameron and Clegg as of major importance and amazingness and that this was significant infrastructure spending to boost the economy.  Which is a a little naughty really…

– this is a process that happens every 5 years, the amount was anticipated already (so not significant new fantasticalness but confirmation that the 5 year period aka Control Period 5 will see continuing investment in the railways)

– however that money is going to see proportionately more burden on the fare payers so fare rises are looking pretty inevitable! (i will come back to this later…)

– as it is a process and statement for 2014-19 it contained already committed schemes including those already underway for delivery in that period i.e. thameslink, crossrail, birmingham new street – so already much less new stuff…

– it has gone large on electrification – i personally agree with this, i would like to see uniform electrification of the entire network as a priority now – so overhead wires for the whole network to allow for standardisation of rolling stock and flexibility to shift stock and services around – as well as the green benefits of fully electrified stock (faster, quieter, cleaner, cheaper, more reliable)

– it also shows that not all money is being spent on high speed rail.  this is also a relief as this is one of the many pieces of nonsense being claimed by those who are anti-high speed rail that it is nice to see wiped clear for good

But the announcement leads to some bigger questions and thoughts that really do need addressing.

When will there be an honest and clear position on the role of the railways – and ultimately public transport/mass transit.  We all accept that the ability to freely move (people, goods, services – the first premises of the EU) is a fundamental part of being human.  We travel every day for all aspects of our lives.  Because that is a basic requirement of life then that puts the ability to travel into the public good i.e. that society sets out within its expectations of being governed that the optimal provision of the means to move around is to be organised and delivered by the state.  So in that respect transport infrastructure should be paid for by all of society through taxation to be delivered by the state for the benefit of everyone who chooses to use it (and NB without any exclusivity so proper accessibility for everyone).

So with that in mind I come down on the side of the utility provided by transport is so fundamental that the state should take the burden and therefore not the fare payer when it comes to railways.

We need effective, efficient and, crucially, affordable mass transit systems to support access to jobs, skills, health and recreation – in turn the quality of infrastructure supports our ability to compete in the world economy.

So the Government should be focussing transport spending on a long term strategy founded on these core principles:

– affordability,

– accessibility – that all communities have access to adequate transport options

– inclusivity – that all individuals are able to use these transport options

– efficiency – that transport provision is designed with the best technology for minimal emissions

– efficacy – that the transport provided is designed to maximise the benefits it can provide

– proportionality – that the transport option used is designed for the benefits it brings (not under or over supplying)

Immediately from these, my proposition can draw out several key strands to the long term strategy such as the electrification of the whole railway network, the redesign of the bus network to a franchise system as in london (designed, controlled and paid for by local areas and delivered by the most effective operators be they private or public sector, or both), an open-mindedness as to what infrastructure types should be put in place for particular solutions i.e. what does the job and best fits the purpose – a bus? tram? train? or a hybrid of these such as bus rapid transit or tram-train? or can a different solution such as free bikes or dedicated active transport corridors for walkers and cyclists only where roads used to be?

The point is, that it is all piecemeal.  There is no big vision because there is little appetite for understanding what the purpose is to all of this and working from first principles onwards as to the why? who? how? specifically…

Well, there is bound to be some more on all this form me but as always any comments are welcomed…

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