All this rail excitement…!

The volume of intrigue/interest/issues going on in the world of railways these days is surely too much.  I mean it is becoming acceptable to discuss the railways in proper conversation without having to don an anorak!  I jest!! I will make clear now that i have flogged a tired ancient stereotype that is utterly wrong and irrelevant now.  From my perspective the fact that the railways, and transport generally, are now a fundamental part of our political/economic discourse as key to achieving wider policy objectives is great progress!

But back to the main theme.  Over the last few weeks, on rail alone we have had a number of major stories:

– the Thameslink fleet of new trains has finally made progress with Siemens now on the brink of signing the deal with the Government to supply the Thameslink trains;

– HS2 of course continues to rumble away, with another Judicial Review being heard in the High Court this week; of course, there  continues to be strong progress made by HS2 Ltd in developing the scheme while the opposition groups continue to blow out plenty of hot air with little sense or evidence or constructive criticism;

– on that note, the Paving Bill is scheduled for 2nd reading in Parliament in the week commencing 24 June;

– the Office of Rail Regulation published their draft Periodic Review – on that, read my piece for politics.co.uk here

– the word on the street tells us that the Mayor of London will not get his hands on the Southeastern metro services to South East London and Kent after a rearguard action from Kent Conservative politicians – though he might get the Greater Anglia services…

– the Crossrail 2 lobby is progressing well; the TfL consultation is live and should generate some fascinating discussion in the coming weeks and months;

– finally, the infrastructure debate more widely has accelerated as we approach the Spending Review.

On that note, I recently attended an event to discuss infrastructure and asked Lord Deighton (the infrastructure minister) whether the Coalition Govt hammering home the ‘austerity narrative’ over the last 3 years had made all of our lives harder when lobbying for major capital funding for infrastructure projects (and specifically high speed rail).  Unsurprisingly, the answer is that the narrative for infrastructure has to be promoted more strongly in explaining how major capital investment is necessary in the long term and a sensible way of spending – compared to spending on welfare…??

I felt that perhaps implicitly we all agreed that infrastructure is vital and major capital investment is justified; the issue comes down to the politics and the politicians’ role in developing a clearer and more confident narrative.  Still, it is immensely frustrating promoting investment in major schemes and developing the clear messages of how it will generate benefits across economic, social and environmental policy areas – only to be told by politicians that ‘obviously’ it can’t be afforded at the moment… who knows eh?

So to go back to the original point, there is a lot happening, there is investment (some) and there is tough talk about how we need to press ahead with investing in schemes to deliver growth etc etc.  But behind all the talk, how much really is happening now and in the short term?

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