The snap general election is with us as expected and we have to wait until afterwards to find out what the recommendations of the Williams and Oakervee reviews of franchising and HS2 will be – as amended to make them acceptable to the new government. Enter our competition to propose a new name for HS2 which will capture the public imagination. Image HS2 Ltd.
We will expect rapid progress after the election
The emerging ‘regional’ Sub-National Transport Bodies such as Transport for the North must be given responsibility for specifying rail services and enhancements. Railfuture calls for a doubling of rail capacity in the north. Likewise, Transport for the South East has set a strategy of doubling rail journeys in 30 years so that sustainable growth can be achieved without a major increase in road travel. Carrots and sticks will be needed to encourage all of us to choose to use public transport, cycling or walking more. This is necessary to address climate change and air pollution.
To make rail travel more attractive, sustainable and cost-effective, a rolling programme of electrification is essential, prioritising intensively-used and 100mph plus routes, especially those which are already partly electrified.
Railfuture continues to support HS2 as the only way to provide the significant additional north-south rail capacity needed to replace more polluting road and air travel. However better connectivity with local rail services must also be provided so that travellers can access HS2 services easily. Enter our competition to propose a new name for HS2 which will convey why it is essential and win public support.
Government decisions required
The Department for Transport is stuck on many other issues besides franchising, HS2 and electrification.
Fares are increasing faster than earnings and to fix this the cost structure of the rail industry must be addressed. The government must also endorse the RDG proposals to make the ticketing system less confusing.
The DfT has just published the latest update of the ‘’Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline’’, which shows very little progress since the previous update – approvals must be given more quickly.
Finally, the DfT and Treasury must move forward on the Market–Led Proposals that have been submitted by accepting that although the finance costs of private capital may be higher than government borrowing, the focus on objectives and delivery by private investors will result in lower cost overall. The government must also accept that it has to facilitate access for services running between new infrastructure and the existing network.
Accessibility is important to enable everyone – those with heavy luggage or pushchairs as well as wheelchair users or the elderly and infirm - to use the rail network. Trains are nearly there. When the final Pacers are withdrawn next year, the focus must change to stations. This will be a long term exercise - the Access for All programme has provided level access to the platform at many larger stations, but £200m more funding is needed in this Control Period to achieve Railfuture’s aim of 100 more by ’24, ie making a greater range of 100 more stations accessible by 2024. Achieving a level platform-train interface will be an even greater challenge, but one that must also be addressed.
Local campaigning is equally important. At the proposed 6000 home Welborne Garden Village development in Hampshire, Railfuture Wessex has succeeded in getting land safeguarded for a new station as a condition of the planning permission for the development. We are now working to build a stakeholder consortium which will seek approval, funding and a cost-effective solution for the station.
Earlier this year in the North East, the campaign by our affiliated South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG) succeeded in getting funding from Northumberland County Council for the next stage of development of the project to reopen the Ashington Blyth and Tyne line for passengers. This will create new journey opportunities to Newcastle, boosting the economy of the area. SENRUG was featured recently in a major article about the reopening in RAIL magazine, which also carried an article by SENRUG chair and Railfuture member Dennis Fancett on why the Network Rail GRIP process is not fit for projects such as this which are not funded by Network Rail itself.
Successes such as these build our credibility with both stakeholders and the public, encouraging people to support us in campaigning for a bigger better railway.
Railfuture’s analysis of the Party manifestos for rail
Building for future users – why rail capacity must be doubled