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The rail industry is once again expanding, with new track, re-opened routes and in-fill chords – but we need some history lessons, argues reader Rod Hilditch.


T


he East West Rail project’s first vision to reconnect Cambridge and Oxford


held up better than Bedford to Oxford. Whilst it was no longer feasible to recon- nect into Cambridge, a Cambridge termi- nal on the end of the former route close by Cambridge made sense and was feasible.


It is important to see where freight can be delivered in an environment and with in- frastructures that fit the new world of Co2 and environmental damage, even before we get to congestion. The latter is a phe- nomenon mainly for road modes, but is also true of shipping if you cannot dock, and for rail if you cannot reach the rail sid- ing/station/terminal. However, the HS2 investment, now the making or breaking position held by Philip Hammond, simi- lar to the stance of the Health Secretary, is not a new dilemma. High-speed train movements are a fad, created when it was important to be everywhere in one day. It is odd in a world where employment for many is only a dream, and job-sharing/ car-sharing designed to aid space was not recognised as a tool to save resources.


Governments are like a business starting up, not from scratch but from the shelf; its management had a dream and, using the resources it received, strove to make a difference and show the resources it took on could be moulded for prosperity. In business, rigidity can be a disaster; when starting, flexibility and changing to meet the tidal surges is understood. The media today choose to see this trait as a failure, whereas to meet the changes and react takes know-how and a strong skin.


East West Rail is no different from other parts of the rail network that are part of the current infrastructures that fit the business at hand where the business industry strives to grow. Most businesses are local and na- tional, very few are international, which is the purpose of the high-speed fad.


Re-opening the connections of the former Cambridge-Oxford route reinstates a trade route plied for centuries. When the rail- way closed, it closed in favour of the road option. Today, road construction is more than eight times more costly than rail – in these austere times, for some, this is high on their agenda. The trade route is essen-


tial for the stabilisation of the trade corri- dors; maritime interchanges, the backbone of consumption, are generally considered secondary by Government.


The UK’s marine interchanges/ports should be used to reach areas easily; alas, the UK is an island, and therefore has more ports in relation to land mass than Germany. Whilst that improves choice, ports’ owners make a case for theirs be- ing the best port – this is seen when they entertain the larger ships for a better economy of scale, to justify planning appli- cations caring very little about the inland infrastructures that are bunched together more in the UK than they are in France or Germany, where towns and cities are fur- ther apart. We have therefore become our own worst enemy.


The high-speed option is a decision to by- pass the difficult decisions: it is easy and must not be confused with transport pol- icy. It is the detail that is really the point, as is the case for who will benefit. The East West Rail beneficiaries are greater in num- bers than HS2’s, but have less of a media profile. Major road works have secured employment over the last 50 years; the railways were doing the same in the cen- tury before that.


HS2 bypasses industry. Its route is a new trade corridor, where more bunching in open areas will be the result of this exer- cise: more CO2 and congestion, for in- crease environmental damage. This new government/company should remember what happened, and the decisions and in- vestment made, but act where investments aid the whole – not just another corridor that creates interchanges that offer a new connect where growth cannot occur.


It is not the end of the story, but HS2 is a vehicle from the Treasury viewpoint, where it is considered an investment that will en- sure a return. Alas, this will never produce the level of return to assist the re-gener- ational growth that is essential, whereas East West Rail and the ECML do, impor- tantly, connect where the interchanges connect with the areas of consumption.


TELL US WHAT YOU THINK opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com


rail technology magazine Jun/Jul 11 | 39


A reader offers his thoughts on East West Rail, HS2, maritime freight and employment – and how they all tie together.


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