the contemplates ... the new governments transport policy

09.07.10 contemplates … New Government's Transport Policy

There appear to be three main themes running through the new Government’s Transport Policy Statement, namely rail, road and sustainability.  Reference to air travel is notable by its absence.  What can we conclude from this?  The announcement that the third runway at Heathrow is to be cancelled seems to underlie this omission.  Conservative policy was to plug the third runway gap with a high speed rail network that would reduce demand for internal flights and free up space for more international ones - but High Speed 2 is now to be phased (a euphemism for delayed!) and our planning system is incapable of delivering quick decisions on nationally important projects to permit timely construction to meet this demand.  Is this issue of fast travel between key UK centres now kicked into the long-grass?

Longer Train Operating Company franchises - with a condition that money is spent on services, station and train improvement - would be welcome as that would push the drive and the financing into the private sector - a helpful idea with little or no public funds available.  But don’t hold your breath on delivery, remember Metronet, or on quality, which only went from dire to moderate when the motorway service areas had their makeover.

The emphasis on low carbon transport projects should go without saying, but it is none the less good to see it expressly stated.  However,  there has to be more fiscal incentives to make this all happen. Leadership has to come from the Government, which is not driven by short-term gain.  The reliability of a dedicated or prioritised right of way for high volume transit, with vehicles that are not oil fuelled must be a major plank of transport policy, not a footnote.  The emphasis also has to be on light rail and bus projects, which require imaginative and sensitive design solutions.  On this point the Campaign for Better Transport's document "Smarter Cuts" is something we would urge those who formulate transport to read.  

Further, the embodied energy in the materials and construction techniques used in projects that require huge infrastructure is a factor that needs to be considered in greater depth than has been the case in the past.  The matter of whole life costing should become an early work-stream in the decision making process.

As to the noble desire to make Network Rail more accountable to its customers, the ambiguity as to who the customers are needs to be clarified.  Is it the TOC’s or the passengers?  At the moment the TOC faces the real customer and not Network Rail.

The ambitious aspirations in establishing a High Speed Rail Network is laudable, but the means to facilitate this also have to be in place.  Replacing the Infrastructure Planning Commission which was, although untried, intended to provide the means for speeding up the system will only leave us with the dire problems currently experienced, until new measures are forthcoming.

Projects of national interest must have a democratic system of appraisal which can be undertaken within a timeframe that will allow timely progress through all phases of design and construction (see footnote 1). The French system of generous compensation to land owners to permit fast tracking of major projects may work out to be more economic in the long run than an expensive series of public enquires.  Will it then be the affordability hurdle that floors progress? (see footnote  2)

It is good to hear that Crossrail and further electrification are supported.  The anxiety is that the intensive value engineering currently in hand will drive compromising decisions that future users and operators will live to regret.

The passenger certainly needs a powerful champion.  The question is how powerful?  Will the champion have real teeth that can address all the passengers’ needs including the quality of the passenger experience?  Will these powers extend to the underground?  The current overcrowded and overheated conditions on some journeys leave a lot to be desired.  Do we have to have accidents or worse still deaths before there is a budget for action?

Fair pricing is a high priority.  This should also include a simple clarity and comprehensibility.  There are frequently far too many types of ticket to be able to take intelligent decisions when paying a fare.

The remaining policies revolve mainly round the road user and touch on matters of sustainability, fairness and driver irritants.  However the sustainability agenda only touches the tip of the iceberg by looking at electric vehicles and sustainable travel initiatives when the real issue is what do we do for energy as we pass ‘peak oil’.  The hard truth needs to be told and planned reduction in the use of oil based transport implemented immediately.

1: The Chairman of the IPC notes on their website:
In the Coalition Agreement, the Government confirmed its commitment to an efficient and democratically accountable fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.
The Government aims to bring forward legislation next year to replace the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), introducing a revised structure within Government, which will put the fairer, faster decision making that national infrastructure planning requires, on a democratic footing.

2:  The emergency budget did hold a ray of hope for rail infrastructure. Nick Webb of Meeting Place Communications concluded that ‘There will be no further reductions in capital expenditure. Some time was taken to explain the importance of infrastructure projects which offer considerable benefit to the country. Improvements to Birmingham New Street Station, Manchester Metrolink and Tyne & Wear Metro were all listed as proceeding as planned.’