The fu­ture is not bright

Rail (UK) - - Open Access | Letters -

I am con­stantly amazed by the ‘ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive’ at­ti­tude of the rail in­dus­try in its for­ward­plan­ning.

Re­cently I sat through sev­eral days of a rail-re­lated Pub­lic In­quiry, dur­ing which a coun­cil eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer pre­sented (in pass­ing) de­tails about East-West rail freight cor­ri­dor im­prove­ments now be­ing ac­tively planned by the rail au­thor­i­ties for

the pe­riod 2030-40.

These in­clude re­jec­tion of the ‘Dulling­ham loops’ scheme (Cam­bridgeshire), and even the pos­si­bil­ity of a new rail chord be­ing con­structed to avoid land con­straint is­sues at New­mar­ket, all as part of the pro­jected up­grade and re­dou­bling of the Cam­bridge to Chip­pen­ham Junc­tion line. I do won­der on what eco­nomic pro­jec­tions such for­ward plan­ning ac­tu­ally takes place? I in­creas­ingly be­lieve that it is all just wish­ful think­ing.

Away from the in­su­lar world of rail op­er­a­tions, a pe­riod of un­prece­dented tur­moil and so­cial read­just­ment has just be­gun, the first ob­vi­ous sign of which is the death of the High Street.

It will spread far and wide, cov­er­ing not just tra­di­tion­ally ‘low-skilled’ jobs and ser­vices, but stretch across all eco­nomic ar­eas, in­clud­ing the rail in­dus­try it­self. It will be the big­gest and most pro­found change since the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion.

The world in 2030-40 will be pro­foundly dif­fer­ent to to­day - and per­ma­nently so. Fu­ture rail modelling needs to ap­pre­ci­ate a pos­si­bly mon­u­men­tal fall in per­sons us­ing pas­sen­ger trains, as tra­di­tional work­places (and in­deed jobs) van­ish. In­comes will also fall, mak­ing the cost of travel un­re­al­is­tic - as is al­ready hap­pen­ing.

And less dis­pos­able in­come re­quires fewer prod­ucts to buy and less move­ment of such by rail. The econ­omy will re­duce to a more ba­sic, sus­tain­able level. Life will be­come very tough, for many.

In the light of such a world, any de­vel­op­ment of the rail net­work needs to be crit­i­cally re­assessed in terms of ac­tual so­ci­etal re­quire­ment. It is my contention that such a re­quire­ment will be sub­stan­tially lower than the present net­work, in­clud­ing that into cities.

At the mo­ment, the rail in­dus­try as a whole ap­pears to be spend­ing stag­ger­ing sums in de­vel­op­ing projects for a fu­ture that sim­ply will never ex­ist.

Guy Bet­t­ley-Cooke, Cheve­ley

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