The times they are a’changing. Bob Dylan’s song is really applicable to the railway just now. With governments taking the railway seriously at last, a half century of neglect is having to be made good as well as undertaking the modernisation which was envisaged in 1955, but much of which has not yet happened, such as wholesale electrification.
This has its effect on operational quality and price. Inconvenience, especially at weekends and the major holiday periods, in the form of closing down whole sections of the railway while they work on it, has been normal for several years and will continue for a while yet.
The policy of successive governments has been that passengers rather than taxpayers should bear the cost of operating and improving the railway, with the result that fares have risen faster than inflation for many years.
The latter point is being reviewed as passengers are saying that they have had enough of this policy, and quite right too.
Most countries regard their railways as a national asset to be paid for out of national funds, while politicians in this country have regarded the railways as a business rather than a service, and so in their minds should be paid for by the users.
The long-awaited ‘decision’ on the third runway at Heathrow has been made … for the moment. It is a good thing that the decision has been made in the form that it has (hesitantly), because we can be confident that it will not happen.
The weight of objection and the practicality of carrying it out will be so complicated that the several parliamentary terms which will occur before anything irrevocable happens will offer plenty of opportunity to change it, or better still cancel it altogether.
The decision to go ahead is based on the assumption that additional airport capacity is actually required. In fact, what is required is a reduction in demand, making it unnecessary.
The Green Party is proposing a Frequent-flyers Levy to achieve that, and many politicians as well as large numbers of the general public are coming round to that view.
So many trips abroad by Big Business are actually ‘jollies’ rather than having a fundamental business purpose that cannot be achieved without the need to leave their desks.
Congestion on the roads and railways shows that it is all forms of transport that are subject to over-demand. There are just too many people wanting to make too many journeys by any form of transport, because it is now too easy to do it.
The use of energy for transport is the subject of research into the use of renewables, which is not easy when dealing with moving vehicles, but perfectly feasible when the vehicles are on rails.
Which brings us to the subject of power generation.
Hinkley Point, the nuclear power station which the government has recently agreed to, is to produce electricity at vast expense for which we shall be paying huge sums of money to two foreign powers for very many years.
The design of the power station is one which has reportedly given cause for concern in both France and China, and has been described as ‘outdated’.
Concerns have been expressed about the technical and political security of the scheme.
As if that were not enough, it is to be built on the banks of the Severn Estuary, which has the second greatest tidal rise and fall in the world.
Harnessing tidal power, which might seem a rather sensible thing for an island nation to do, has barely been given a thought by our politicians, though there is commercial research and experimental work being undertaken in the Scottish islands.
The Severn Barrage, a tidal power generation proposal which was stopped by concerns about wildlife, was estimated to have an output sufficient to power the whole of the Great Western Railway, which is currently being electrified.
One wonders how our politicians arrive at their priorities.
John Wylde is the author of ‘Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp?’ This book is priced at £14.95, post paid and signed by the author. Also ‘Experiments in Public Transport Operation’ at £11.95. Order through the author’s website: www.john- wylde.co.uk, or from Grieves on the corner of Church Street in Berwick.