Resolutions for transport ministers

Four Inter-City 125 trains at Paddington. These trains were known as High Speed Trains when they were built 40 years ago, but are so good that some are coming to Scotland when the Great Western electrification is complete, where they will be used on the lines from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Aberdeen and Inverness.
Four Inter-City 125 trains at Paddington. These trains were known as High Speed Trains when they were built 40 years ago, but are so good that some are coming to Scotland when the Great Western electrification is complete, where they will be used on the lines from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Aberdeen and Inverness.

A happy new year to everybody. The start of the year is the time for making resolutions, usually to be better than we have been in the past. We can suggest a few here for the Ministers of Transport in the UK and Scottish governments.

To start with – take railway electrification seriously.

It was first adopted as Government policy in 1955, but in the usual British manner, successive governments put it off and tried closing the railways instead.

When electrification was agreed, it was at a cost. For example, the West Coast Main Line electrification to Glasgow was permitted only on condition that the Waverley route from Carlisle to Edinburgh was closed.

All this prevarication on the part of successive governments was due to the basic difference in attitude in the UK compared with that on the Continent.

There, transport is seen as a national asset and a public service, whose cost should be borne by central government, while our politicians have always regarded transport as a business, whose cost should be borne by the users.

It, therefore, has appeared to have boiled down to the various political parties opposing each others’ policies and pulling in opposite directions, rather than pulling in the same direction for the public good.

Even now, when successive governments of different political persuasions have agreed that they should get on with the job and we are half way through electrifying the Great Western Main Line to Bristol and South Wales, the brakes have been applied and it is going to take longer and cost more to finish the job.

Consequently, subsequent plans – to electrify the Midland Main Line and upgrade the East-West line across Yorkshire and Lancashire – have similarly been put on hold. One wonders whether some of it will happen at all.

At least in Scotland transport is a devolved responsibility. The Scottish Government has taken it seriously so that electrification through the central belt is progressing, though even here, some of the work will happen more slowly than planned.

The Borders Railway is rather a sad story.

It is good that it was authorised, but it’s bad that in order to achieve it on time and on budget, it appears that several major mistakes were made, such as making far too much of it single track and committing so much of the infrastructure to that configuration, which will make it so much more difficult and expensive to bring it up to standard in the future when it is needed. And why was it not electrified from the outset?

As well as improving the existing railway, far-sighted politicians are looking to see what developments can be undertaken using the existing railway as a springboard.

Apart from the railway, public transport on the roads is left to just get on as best it can.

Central government says that local authorities can decide which services are needed in the public interest, but the councils say that this is difficult or impossible if they do not have the wherewithal to do what is necessary.

In the meantime the motor manufacturers are continually improving their marketing techniques.

The people who cannot drive for one reason or another are advised to work out a community self-help programme.

• John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’- the-wisp? priced £14.95, post paid and signed. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation, at £11.95. Order at www.john-wylde.co.uk