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Repopularising rail travel

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Chiltern 'Silver' train, pastel

Great Britain’s Office for Rail Regulation has estimated that the country’s rail passenger volume was 1258 million passengers in 2009, and there’s been sustained growth since 1994.

Nevertheless, the railway accounts for a relatively small proportion of all internal transport, and for lower income groups, intercity rail is especially unaffordable for ‘walk-up’ travel (i.e. where journeys are not pre-booked using tickets restricted to particular trains). As a result, there is a preponderance of users from higher income groups.

In London and some other conurbations, there is a more level usage of short distance passenger rail, partly helped by concessionary/free travel for retired persons. But at the national level, the railway is becoming less and less affordable to the public as a whole.

So for future transport planning, affordability ought to be just as important as resilience and sustainability. High speed rail, in particular, raises some very difficult questions, because it’s expensive to build, and more expensive to operate than conventional rail. The low level of political realism about affordability can be seen in this extract from Maria Eagle’s speech at the 2011 Labour Party conference:

The country wants us to find a better way to deliver rail service in Britain. That’s what we heard loud and clear in our policy review.

They manage it in other parts of the EU. And we can do it here.

So, over the coming months, we will be looking at the right way to bring order back to the chaos in our railways.

And let’s have a new deal for British train manufacturing too.

When the Prime Minister took his Cabinet to Derby, home of our last train manufacturer, he said he’d support local businesses. Then placed a massive order for new trains with a company that will build them in Germany.

It’s time to nail a lie.

If the government thought the tender was wrong: they had every right to rip it up and start again.

The truth? As Philip Hammond has admitted: it just didn’t occur to him.

Because this is a government that cannot think beyond the bottom line.

The local workforce at Bombardier should be proud of the way they are fighting. Not just for their jobs, but for the future of train manufacturing in this country. And we should be proud of the fantastic job that our local Labour MPs – Margaret Beckett and Chris Williamson – are doing. And the effort and resources of the trade unions, leading this fight. We stand with you and we must keep fighting for those jobs.

And let’s make sure that never again do we stack the odds so badly against Britain.

So today I say to Philip Hammond: there is no faith that your Department will give British manufacturing a fair chance. So hand over responsibility for ordering the new Crossrail trains to Transport for London, which – thanks to Labour – has a track record of buying British. And, while we’re at it, let’s show our commitment to rail devolution by letting them manage more of London’s suburban rail services. Providing another opportunity for British train manufacturing.

And let’s set out a long term strategy for investing in our rail infrastructure.

No more talk of classic rail, but a network transformed with a programme to complete electrification and introduce a new generation of high speed inter-city trains. And, yes, let’s also tackle capacity problems between north and south. And in the only credible way it can be done.

That’s why it was Labour that set out plans for a new high speed line. Not just from London to Birmingham, but on to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. Cutting journey times across the UK, benefitting Glasgow and Edinburgh. And, yes, bringing Liverpool under 100 minutes from London.

But the Tory-led Government is only planning to take powers to construct the line as far as Birmingham which casts real doubt on their long term commitment to delivering high speed rail in the north. They should think again and ensure the whole route is included in the forthcoming legislation.

And let’s make it a line that is affordable for the many, not the few. Because when Philip Hammond says, that if you work in a factory in Manchester you will never use it. But, not to worry, because you’ll benefit when your company director does. I’m sorry but that is a Tory vision for high speed rail, not a Labour vision. Philip Hammond may think it is a rich man’s toy, but I don’t. I know you don’t. And a future Labour government never will.

The Labour government contracted with Hitachi to build Class 395 and Intercity Express Programme (IEP) trains in Japan for use on Britain’s main lines, so it’s a bit late in the day for Ms Eagle to start championing British train manufacturing. The Hitachi IEP carriages, at about £9 million apiece, have a fair claim to be the most expensive rail carriages ever built anywhere in the world. The bi-mode version of the IEP takes absurdity to new heights (with no use of such trains in Hitachi’s home market). Someone has to pay for these decisions, and it’s a fair bet that a lot of the cost will end up in long distance train tickets.

The HS2 project would introduce another two types of inflexible train into the rail inventory, and the HS2 Ltd estimate is that trains would use 95-100% more energy on new build high speed line:

Traction power was modelled: for a 200m train, the model calculated the energy consumption would be 45 kilowatt hours/mile (28 kilowatt hours/km) whilst running on HS2. For classic-compatible services running on the classic network, we have assumed the same energy consumption as a Pendolino (23 kilowatt hours/mile, 14 kilowatt hours/km).

(On the information available, a Pendolino has seating equal to, or greater than, a 200 metre HS2 train – the AGV 11 Reference train used by HS2 Ltd seats 510 in dense pack configuration.)

High speed rail imposes extra stresses and wear on equipment such as overhead lines, and rails, requiring more maintenance. It’s all very well to yap about ‘affordability’ in the abstract at a party conference, but if Adonis/Steer high speed rail is implemented, someone has to pick up the tab for the extra electricity, extra maintenance, etc.

Written by beleben

September 27, 2011 at 7:29 pm