Another day of rail news: the future according to Network Rail

I can never decide whether I am glad or terrified to see transport high up on the news agenda – all too often it is to give transport a pasting or reinforcing the somewhat naive viewpoint that it is not really that important compared to other policy areas.  Rarely does transport get discussed in a more positive, proactive, constructive manner – shame…

Well today, it could have been a good news day of positive coverage of the railways but unfortunately the Government’s slashing of the welfare state took over the news agenda which means a lot of people have missed the publication by Network Rail of their Strategic Business Plan for 2014-19 which sets out NR’s plans for the network for Control Period 5 (2014-19).  The suite of documents can be seen here: http://www.networkrail.co.uk/publications/strategic-business-plan-for-cp5/

The Plan has a strong focus on looking longer term, taking the strategic view of actually planning ahead – especially with a view to asset management and ensuring the infrastructure is actually enhanced and developed rather than the wretched patch and mend approach that has fundamentally failed Great Britain and the travelling public.

It was pleasing to read another clear statement from Network Rail that the new national high speed rail network is absolutely critical to ensure there is sufficient capacity in the future on the rail network for commuters, for intercity travellers and to support significant growth in rail freight.

Instead of talking about details within though my real frustration is that although these are thorough, clear and commendable strategic documents, they fundamentally miss the point of delivering leadership as to how the railways should operate to the benefit of rail users – how do we get our rail network running to maximum efficiency and efficacy.  While it may not be NR’s place, these NR documents really make the fact stand out that there is seemingly little long term strategic thought and discussion being applied to how the railways should and could be.

The debate and vision needed now is about the changes we need to plan to make the railway a more focussed public service providing a critical public good to the whole country.  We need to talk about who does what, how is it paid for, how can we make it work better, who is suffering, how can we create greater benefits for many more people?  So while this is all an enjoyable read and excellent in terms of thoroughness and planning, there is leadership missing from above this to actually question whether we can do all of this better…

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