Thursday 20 November 2008

Plans and assumptions

I thought that the admission yesterday by Lord Adonis, the Rail Minister that "our own forecasting model didn’t anticipate the scale of growth we were going to see in rail travel" was a really astonishing one for its utter candour about the state of rail planning in the UK. Effectively, he has admitted that there is no strategic plan for rail travel, merely an attempt to estimate likely demand and then respond to it.

Whilst most of Europe has been planning and investing in capacity to deliberately expand rail travel, the UK has been simply guessing at what might happen and responding on a patchwork basis. On that basis, supply will always lag behind demand.

This is not a criticism of the investments that have been made in themselves. In Wales in particular, we've seen a number of good schemes to re-introduce rail services on lines, build new stations, and increase the frequency of services, and there are more to come. But I can't recall a single one of these where the investment has been pro-active, as opposed to responding to campaigns by local groups and councils.

And that's my real criticism. Given that rail travel is the most environmentally sound mode of transport (short of walking, biking, or simply not making the journey at all), where is the overall strategic plan? Rather than assuming a level of growth and trying to respond to it, we should be setting ambitious targets for switching travel from road to rail and planning the capacity to facilitate that shift. That requires a step change in our thinking about travel planning.


James Dowden said...

I very much agree that we need a national railway plan. And the first priority must be the restoration of the main line from Cardiff to North Wales, plugging the Merthyr - Newtown and Welshpool - Gobowen gaps. The second priority on the national scale is probably the Carmarthen - Aberystwyth gap.

This sounds like one for a pretty map...

Cibwr said...

I agree with James D, the North South links are vitally important, Carmarthen to Aberystwyth is fairly doable, most of the track bed is still there.

We need electrification and high speed links from Hollyhead and Fishguard eastwards to England.

Then there is a need for a proper commuter network serving the South East, the rejoining of Coryton to Radyr, the widening of the Newport Road bridge into Queen Street. The reopening of network of valleys line.

Then there are simple things with rolling stock that can make a difference, such as adding a small guards van on all trains so goods can be carried - until 20 years ago such things were available on the Scottish coastal rail system and proved invaluable in the shipping of goods from small and craft based industries.

We need to be inventive, modern high speed trains on the south and north mainlines, maybe light rail expansion in the major cities and on valley lines, coupled with integrated stations and transport interchanges.

France and much of Western Europe are building an ultra fast backbone service - we are limited to patching an inadequate service and network.