Railfuture is non-political and this commentary is set against Railfuture’s campaign goal of a bigger, better railway. The aim of this article is to provide Railfuture members with talking points after the election on rail issues when engaging with stakeholders and politicians after most copies of the manifestos have been binned.
Two big changes have occurred, firstly the environment has taken centre stage by all parties and secondly transport has risen up the agenda alongside long standing top tier issues, including health, education etc. The linkage that rail can be a vital solution to environmental concerns is coming but not fully there as yet.
This is therefore a major opportunity for Railfuture members, who start with a good knowledge of what railways but many of the new post-election politicians will not. The striking thing is that the window of opportunity for rail is wide open but will close sooner than many people think. Rail is not moving fast enough on the environmental agenda whereas other mode suppliers in the road and also the aviation industry are on the case, devoting huge research, unlike the railways.
We have a campaigning job to do as we cannot rely on the fact that rail development will automatically emerge as the right choice in addressing many of the nation’s environmental, economic and social issues.
The commentary avoids too much emphasis on costings or affordability as it is clear that the manifesto authors have not either. Such criticism in almost every line is therefore replaced by this general observation that much of what is said is unrealistic or unaffordable and so will be a matter of priorities and huge tax or fare rises. The hardest manifesto to write is that of the party most likely to be in government! In terms of deliverability and feasibility the Monster Raving Loony Party is the most genuine in saying we promise we will not initiate any of our policies!
Nevertheless, if you look at the detail there is some good stuff in these manifestos.
Labour Manifesto “It’s time for Real Change”Transport is treated in the Green Industrial Revolution section.
- Labour will build a sustainable, affordable, accessible and integrated transport system, founded on the principle that transport is an essential public service.
So let us briefly examine this in a little more detail.
- Labour will ensure that councils can improve bus services by regulating and nationalising bus networks, and we will give them the resources and full legal powers to achieve this cost effectively, thereby ending the race to the bottom in working conditions for bus workers.
Better pay for bus staff is laudable as many are paid far less than rail staff but it will not improve cost efficiency.
- Where councils take control of the buses, Labour will introduce free bus travel for the under 25s.
- We will increase and expand local services, reinstating the 3000 routes that have been cut, particularly hitting rural communities.
- Labour will deliver improvements for rail passengers by bringing our railways back into public ownership (nationalisation) , using options such as franchise expiry.
- This will enable us to make fares simpler and more affordable, rebuild the fragmented railways as a nationally integrated public service, cut the wastage of profit, improve accessibility for disabled people, ensure safe staffing levels and end driver only operation.
The profit point depends on your politics. Franchise profits are subject to what used to be called the cap and collar mechanism so confining profits to within a + or – 3% range.
Funding of improved accessibility is rigidly controlled and rationed by government through the Accessibility for All scheme. The budget should be larger but this is nothing to do with ownership or nationalisation.
Railfuture members are aware of how safe our railways are and to imply they are not is disingenuous. Ending Driver Only Operation has considerable consequences on the cost of railways and hence fares, particularly in London and the South East. The largest Driver Only operation is the London Tube, the safest in the world. The manifesto does not state why Driver Only Operation would be ended. The question is how can personal security be improved.
- Our publicly owned rail company will steer network planning and investment. It will coordinate mainline upgrades, resignalling, rolling stock replacement and major projects.
- We will implement a full, rolling programme of electrification.
- Our model will ensure continuity of skills, jobs and supply chain capacity to reduce costs, improve productivity and support the economic benefits of Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution.
- We will introduce a long term investment plan including delivering Crossrail for the North (now referred to as Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS3 before that) as part of improved connectivity across northern regions
- We will consult with local authorities to reopen branch lines.
- We will also unlock capacity and extend high-speed networks by completing the full HS2 route to Scotland taking full account of the environmental impacts of different route options.
- We will deliver rail electrification across the whole country, including Wales.
- We will ensure that these major infrastructure projects are a model of good employment practice and pay due regard to environmental impact.
- We will promote the use of rail freight in order to reduce carbon emissions, air pollutants and congestion on our roads and expand the provision of publicly owned rail freight services.
Other modes including cycling and walking, road transport and airport capacity
There is an emphasis on funding for cycling and walking and the urban environment, clearly relevant to public transport treated here. Few specific measures are proposed.
There is almost no mention of road transport, by far the biggest transport provider in the country except in the important areas of emissions and road safety. It is difficult to understand a transport manifesto that does not specifically make proposals concerning the motor vehicle, congestion and infrastructure.
Surprisingly the manifesto seems to support the Davies Commission’s assessment on pressures on airport capacity in the South East but emphasises that expansion must meet air quality, climate change pressures. It will not.
There is a separate manifesto section on the environment. It is disappointing that the environment gained such scant attention in terms of the transport section and rail’s potential positive contribution to this area.
The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2019 – Get Brexit Done. Unleash Britain’s Potential.You have to get to page 25 of the Manifesto before finding the plans for transport, under We Will Unleash Britain’s Potential
- To underpin this national investment, we will invest £100bn in additional infrastructure spending – on roads, rail and other ...... , but qualifies it by saying We will ensure that we are always spending what we can afford on borrowing and repayment costs.
A transport revolution
This is the main section of the manifesto detailing specific transport commitments.
- We will build Northern Powerhouse Rail (Boris’s new name for HS3) between Leeds and Manchester and then focus on Liverpool, Tees Valley, Hull, Sheffield and Newcastle.
- We will invest in the Midlands Rail Hub strengthening rail links between Birmingham. Leicester, Nottingham, Coventry, Derby, Hereford and Worcester.
- We will also invest in improving train lines in the South West and East Anglia
- We will extend contactless pay-as-you-go ticketing to almost 200 more stations in the South East, meaning that 50% of all rail journeys and almost all London commuter journeys can be completed using a contactless card.
- We will give City regions the funding to upgrade their bus, tram and train services to make them as good as London’s with more frequent, better integrated services, more electrification, modern buses and trains and smart ticketing – such as the vision proposed by Andy Street for the West Midlands.
- The railways need accountability, not nationalisation. So we end the complicated franchising model and create a simpler, more effective rail system, giving metro mayors control over rail services in their areas.
- We will make £28.8bn investment in strategic and local roads. We will invest £1bn in completing a fast-charging network to ensure that everyone is within 30 miles of a rapid electric vehicle charging station. We will consult on the earliest date we can phase out the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars, while minimising the impact on drivers and business.
- We will require that a minimum service operates during transport strikes. Rail workers deserve a fair deal, but it is not fair to let the trade unions undermine the livelihoods of others.
- HS2 is a great ambition, but will now cost at least £81bn and will not reach Leeds or Manchester until as late as 2040. We will consider the findings of the Oakervee review into costs and timings and work with leaders of the Midlands and the North to decide the outcome.
This beautifully crafted paragraph can be paraphrased as “I will decide on HS2, particularly timing, cost phasing and governance after the election.”
- Connectivity is not just about the UK’s great cities. To help communities across the country, we will restore many of the Beeching lines reconnecting towns such as Fleetwood and Willenhall that have suffered permanent disadvantage since they were removed from the rail network in the 1960’s
No mention of transport in Scotland or Wales as yet. Still hoping!
- We will invest in Superbus networks with lower fares – flat fares in urban areas – and increased frequency. We will keep bus fares low, bring back and protect rural routes and speed up your journeys. We will invest in electric buses, bringing the UK’s first electric bus town.
- We will launch the biggest ever pot-hole filling programme .....
- We will support commuter cycling routes.......We will create a new £350m Cycling Infrastructure Fund …… mandatory standards.
- Parliament has voted in principle to support a third runway at Heathrow, but it is a private sector project. It is for Heathrow to demonstrate that it can meet its air quality and noise obligations, that the project can be financed and built and the business case is realistic. The scheme will receive no public money. More broadly we will use new air traffic control technology to cut the time aircraft spend waiting to land, reducing delays, noise nuisance and pollution. We will build on Britain’s pioneering work in electric and low-carbon flight.
These issues will not go away and we will pay for mitigation if not the construction itself at Heathrow. The key here is effective rail surface transport links to Heathrow so reducing the dependence on road travel for workers (quoted as 114,000 Heathrow related., or 40,000 direct employees), on account of no night rail services for staff and early flight passengers. Railfuture will continue to campaign for new rail links to Heathrow from the west and south of the airport.
Amazingly, there is no mention of Scotland in the specific railway context.
Railfuture campaigns strongly and effectively in Scotland and indeed Transport Scotland has delivered many rail improvements including now five electrified rail routes between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Our Scottish branch will continue to remind politicians of the contribution railway development can play in the future of Scotland.
The manifesto reads as pre occupied with other political matters in Scotland.
There is no specific mention of transport in Northern Ireland either.
Transport gets scant attention and railways get a single mention:
- Transport. To support our Union, we will upgrade the A55 as the main transport artery for North Wales – improving its capacity and resilience to build connections between Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. A Welsh Conservative Government would deliver the M4 relief road which has been mothballed by the Labour administration.... (repeated for emphasis)
The rest of the country connectivity point could also have been raised in Scotland with a specific commitment to extend the Borders Line to Carlisle. It was not.
It is curious that the South Wales Valley lines do not get a mention despite the significant plans for them by other parties.
- We will also deliver on our commitment to fund the building of the West Wales Parkway Station outside of Swansea.
This manifesto, like the Labour version, has a large section on the environment but again fails to highlight how a significant decent electric transport system carrying vastly more people, attracted from private transport, can contribute to the environment.
Liberal Democrats. STOP BREXIT. Build a brighter futureTransport is initially treated in the Our Plan for a Green Society and a Green Economy section. Given the potential contribution of rail to environmental issues this is good although a specific transport manifesto is included later.
This is what the Manifesto says: Britain’s transport system systems are broken. Commuting by rail is expensive, unreliable and unpleasant, and away from the major commuter routes, buses, trams and trains are so infrequent and expensive that cars are essentially made a necessity. This in turn has made air pollution – mainly caused by cars – one of the biggest cause of preventable illness in the UK, causing at least 40,000 premature deaths a year and costing the NHS £15bn. And surface transport tis now the largest source of greenhouse gas emission sin the UK.with almost no progress in reducing them since 1990.The UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions has risen by almost 80% since 1990.Liberal Democrats will meet this challenge by (then three actions are listed treated separately below).
The three policy mentions are general cover-all as if the author wants us to move on swiftly to other environmental issues. These are:
- Investing in Public transport, buses, trams and railways to enable people to travel more easily while reducing their impact on the environment.
- Plans for a far higher priority on encouraging walking and cycling – the healthiest forms of transport
- Accelerating the transition to ultra-low emission transport – cars, buses and trains through taxation, subsidy and regulation.
Still searching for anything specific on rail it is worth looking at the Clean and Green section. Plenty on electric road vehicles here. There is a brief section on rail freight in here.
- Shift more freight from road to rail , including electrification lines leading from major ports as an urgent priority, and amend the current HGV road user levy to take account of carbon emissions.
On air, the manifesto wants to tax regular business air travel and no new runway capacity at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted or indeed, Boris Island. It does not cite improving international rail links to provide an alternative to short distance air travel without taxing business.
There is also a section entitled Reducing the Need for Car Travel
This section advocates devolution, mentions light rail (where the others don’t), but does not even mention rail – a missed opportunity.
And then, we find a section Fixing Britain’s Railways. This section is examined with commentary below.
- Freeze rail fares for commuters and season ticket holders for a parliament, while we fix our railways
- Extend Britain’s rail network, improve stations, reopen smaller stations and restore twin track lines to major routes.
- Convert the rail network to ultra low emission technology (electric or hydrogen) by 2035 and provide funding for light rail and trams
- Support HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, East West Rail and Crossrail 2 but ensure far tighter financial controls to meet our decarbonisation goals while minimising the destruction of precious UK habitats and woodlands.
- Create a new Railways Agency to oversee the operations of the railway network removing the Department for Transport from day to day decision making.
- Be far more proactive in sanctioning and ultimately sacking train operators if they fail to provide high quality public service to their customers.
- Improve the experience of people who rely on the railways for work by investing in commuter routes and the integration of rail, bus and cycle routes.
- Fix the broken fares and ticketing system so that it provides better value for money.
- Improve disabled access to public transport via the Access for All programme.
The Scottish National Party SNPAlthough the SNP agenda is heavily dominated by the independence and fighting Brexit issues this is what the SNP is saying about transport. A lot of this also is in the context of devolution.
- SNP MPs will fight for better, greener public transport.
- Westminster’s division of Scotland’s rail system has gone on far too long....SNP will demand full control of Scotland’s railway system to be devolved to the Scottish parliament – so we can put Scotland’s railways in public hands....
- The SNP will push to make our railways significantly more efficient, faster and greener .....
There is a commitment to decarbonising Scotland’s railways to reach net zero by 2035 and zero emission city centres by 2030 and the world’s first zero emission aviation region in the Highlands and Islands by 2030. This is the first public commitment to air beating rail to zero carbon by 5 years.
Plaid Cymru manifesto 2019The manifesto is formatted into 11 key policies, one of which concerns railways. This is examined below.
- Electrify Wales’s main lines by 2030. South Wales Valleys electrification would be completed followed by the Wales Coast Line.
Other rail policy commitments on infrastructure are listed as:
- Moving Chester depot into Wales, and a new North East Wales metro network.
- A new trans Wales railway along the west Wales Coast achieved by reopening the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth Line
- A Cross Rail for the Valleys from Porth to Pontypool
The BREXIT PartyThe Brexit party manifesto is focussed on Brexit with no involvement in European institutions and also a fixation on immigration presumably from Nigel Farage’s UKIP roots. There is no listed transport policy other than to scrap HS2.
There are consequences of no involvement in European institutions for transport, but in this context it is all about Brexit without any thought or analysis on more complex transport regulatory issues and any benefits that involvement with European organisations might bring. This is a subject for later analysis.
The Green Party If not now, when?Much of the environmental commitment space has been closed in on by the other parties, particularly the Lib Dems whose manifesto is formatted around the green agenda. The Green Party manifesto is more traditional in format and contains an extremely comprehensive transport strategy – The Green Deal for Transport.
Following the introduction on the move away from carbon the emphasis is on public transport, walking and cycling so wherever possible people are not forced to use the car (as apart from being forced to use public transport.)
- Spending £2,5bn a year on new cycleways and footpaths, built using sustainable materials, such as woodchips and sawdust.
- Making travelling by public transport cheaper than travelling by car, reducing the cost of travelling by train and bus. Coach travel will also be encouraged, with new routes for electric coaches across the country.
- Creating a new golden age of train by opening new connections that remove bottlenecks, increase railfreight capacity, improve journey times and frequencies, enhance capacity in the South West, Midlands and the North, and connect currently unconnected urban areas. We would also look, where possible, to open closed stations. These rail improvements will benefit from funding switched from the damaging HS2 scheme, which we will cancel – ending wasteful spending
- Electrifying all railway lines that connect cities, improving punctuality.
- Creating a government owned rolling stock company which would invest in a fleet of electric trains to run on newly electrified lines.
- Giving responsibility for running short distance passenger rail franchises to councils or groups of councils.....
- We will bring all railways back into public ownership over ten years
- Giving all local authorities control over bus services,...restoration of lost bus routes.... bus priority...better bus stops...public toilets.... disabled facilities....tramway development.
There are also a series of measures proposed on electric cars, traffic reduction neighbourhoods and a default 40 mph speed limit in non residential areas except on major roads. The default road speed limit is currently 60mph on single carriageway roads and 70 mph on dual carriageways, although many single carriageway roads have 50 mph speed limits away from urban areas. There are also sections on planning housing with good transport access and also the old stay at home and work chestnut.