Party Like It's 1899: The Revival of UK Rail

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/21/2008 04:39:00 PM
Partly as a result of high fuel prices, the British are resorting in greater numbers to a time-tested form of transportation: the train. In 1986, Margaret Thatcher is said to have uttered the now-famous line "a man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure" [!] as a put-down to those who have not bettered their situation enough to own private transportation (read: own a car). Despite her put-down, however, it seems the British have been taking the train in ever-larger numbers, necessitating the expansion of rail transport for the first time in ages. Given that car ownership is becoming an increasingly iffy economic proposition with gas prices averaging over $10 a gallon here in addition to various other hassles ranging from unaffordable parking to congestion charging schemes, it is no surprise that the train is regaining its relevance. Both the Financial Times and the BBC have recent articles on plans by Network Rail to expand their lines in the coming years as people start boarding more trains.

For some time, environmental campaigners such as Friends of the Earth and the Heathrow expansion opposition group HACAN have been pressing the government to encourage more rail travel instead of short-haul flights. Given the increasingly favourable economics for rail travel, the tide is turning quickly against Baroness Thatcher. I sure am glad to be a rail-travelling loser! From the BBC comes this note:
Five new high-speed main lines crossing the width and breadth of the UK may be built as part of a review of the rail network, Network Rail says. The network operator will announce on Monday it is to commission a study looking into what could be the largest track build since the 19th century. The study will consider laying new lines alongside five of the UK's busiest routes by 2025. They include the East Coast main line and West Coast main line. The review will also assess the need for high speed trains similar to the French TGV to cope with Britain's growing number of rail users.

In the last decade, passenger numbers have risen by about 40% with more people travelling by rail than at any time since 1946. In addition, numbers are expected to swell by a further 30% in the next 10 years.

The study being commissioned by Network Rail will look at the service in the post-2014 period, with all options "on the table". If given the go-ahead, the new lines are likely to run alongside some of the UK's busiest existing routes.

They include the West Coast line to Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, the East Coast main line to Edinburgh, the Great Western main line to Cardiff and Penzance, the Midland main line to Sheffield and the Chiltern route to Birmingham.

A spokesman for Network Rail said: "We are looking at these five strategic routes. We are possibly looking at new lines. "There is a huge case to be made for an expansion of the rail network. All options are on the table looking at how we address capacity issues."

Richard Dyer, transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Expanding Britain's railways by building new high speed lines is potentially very exciting - and could play an important role in weaning Britain off fossil fuels and developing a low carbon economy. "But the overall impact that this would have on local people and the environment must be carefully considered. "The UK needs a modern, comprehensive and affordable rail network to provide a real alternative to cars, lorries and short haul flights, and help cut Britain's contribution to global climate change. "Our creaking railway system desperately requires huge investment to bring it into the 21st century."

Ashwin Kumar, passenger director of independent watchdog for rail users Passenger Focus, said: "We welcome the study. It is extremely important the rail industry anticipates future growth."