Transport Watch UK Focusing on UK's Traffic & Traffic Systems

Topic 103. Events: Rail in crisis

Jasper Tomlinson, one of our supporters, calls for a public meeting.  He writes:

I am old enough to remember Brigadier Lloyd’s paper ‘Potentialities of the British Railways system as a reserved road system’, which he read to the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1955.

The Government subsequently asked Dr Beeching to tell us how to make railways profitable - a financial issue. The better question, which he was not asked was how should this vast Victorian network, serving the hearts of our towns and cities, be operated in the national interest. That is an economic rather than a financial question.

What did Lloyd actually mean by a reserved road network? Essentially he proposed paving over the rails and licensing freight, passenger and public service vehicles to use the network. Lloyd’s paper led to the founding of teh Railway Conversion League (1958 – 1994)   The analyses were compelling.  They have been repeated. The gap between the railway myth and reality appears so large as to beggar belief.

Network Rail, with un-repayable debt in terms of infrastructure investment, presently at £50bn or more, and an annual £5bn subsidy, is in trouble. The current annual subsidy averages about £200 per family. Less than half the population are using trains, probably because of cost.

Mark Carne, CEO Network Rail, gave evidence in May to the Transport Select Committee describing rail transport on a trajectory to more failures over the next two decades, partly because of insufficient capacity.

‘Digital Rail’ is the rescue plan.  The project has a 25-year timescale. Mr Carne promised the business plan by the end of 2016.  It is expected to include costs and benefits and envisages a capacity increase of up to 40%.  To date no such plan has been released.

Digitalisation of every aspect of the railway would allow trains to move as efficiently as is physically practicable. However, is it enough to aspire to a 40% capacity increase? Instead we should aspire to a doubling or tripling of capacity, a halving of the fares and to replace the vast subsidies by equivalent profits.  That would do justice to this vast but otherwise failing triumph of Victorian Engineering.

Why is the rail network so ineffective and costly and why has Brigadier Lloyd’s thesis been forgotten, despite its compelling arguments? For two years I have been calling for a level playing field debate between railway engineers and transport economists so that the matter may be examined.

Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, no credible railway engineer will be allowed to take part.  For over a year I have been finding willing, qualified speakers from the industry but all of them have been warned off. This topic is taboo…

So, in lieu of a debate I am arranging a meeting where the concepts, feasibility and economics of Brigadier Lloyd’s proposals can be examined.

For freight and passenger transport, could the rail network do better as a reserved road system?

Wednesday 17th May 6.00pm for 6.30pm until 9pm. Conference Room of St James's Church Piccadilly (entrance to meeting in Church Place W1J 9LL).

Keynote Presentation by Dr Richard Wellings, Deputy Research Director IEA, and Paul Withrington, Director Transport-Watch, authors of the IEA 2015 publication paving over the tracks. Q&A and networking,.

Please text 07785551068 if expecting to attend.   Jasper Tomlinson MA(Oxon) CEnv London

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