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Railwatch 075 - April 1998

Be radical with rail

By Mike Crowhurst

Nearly a year into the New Labour era, everyone is waiting with bated breath for the promised White Paper on Integrated Transport.

There has already been a blizzard of papers, the Franchise Director's remit was revised in the autumn and the rolling stock leasing companies are being investigated. But what about real change?

Take reopenings: Alloa stalled, Brighouse stalled, Cranleigh consultants negative, Dunstable and St Ives at risk from busways.

If all these are getting nowhere in official evaluation processes, then it is time to re-examine the questions and criteria used.

Powerful rearguard actions are also being mounted by cyclists for example on Bodmin-Wenford, and by ramblers on the Welsh Highland line.

These, like buses, should be our allies in the sustainable transport movement, but regrettably all too often want to take trackspace from railways rather than from the motorist.

Other forms of rapid transit are not faring much better. Leeds in particular looks likely to be eclipsed by busways.

With the current concern about pollution and global warming, we should be promoting low-pollution modes such as trams and trolleybuses.

For the same reason we should be pressing forward with electrification of the heavy rail network, starting with some of the gaps in the existing electrified network.

But since privatisation the only electrification project under way is Heathrow. A resumption of the electrification programme is urgently needed.

One final thought for Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Secretary John Prescott, who is looking for places to put a projected five million or so new houses.

Instead of battling with already overcrowded counties such as Sussex or Hertfordshire to release land, why not develop houses and the rail service along the Oxford-Cambridge corridor, for example, which already links some of the fastest growing towns in the country, but also includes areas with considerable scope for more growth?

That really would be an example of integrated transport planning!

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