British Transport Policy

OK, its time to stop taking jibes at the UK’s railways and justify my opinions. Having now lived out of the UK for over seven years I have been able to compare, first hand, the various transport alternatives that Europe has to offer.

Without a doubt Germany has probably one of the best integrated transport systems, and its only getting better. City transport systems are extensive using either light rail/tram systems or heavier rapid transport networks. Regional and inter-city links are constantly being upgraded and speeds increased, and finally the high-speed network is growing rapidly.

Czech Republic had a rather decaying system, but in recent years investment has been ploughed into the system – it needed it! The east-west link from Prague to Ostrava is being rebuilt and upgraded. Rapid passenger trains – The Pendolino – are now doing well. (A recent publicity stunt pitted a taxi vs the new train. It took 25 longer by taxi. Taxis here drive like Formula 1 drivers). Double deckers are replacing the rusting rolling stock. The direction is positive, and more network upgrades are planned.

The Netherlands is another great example. The entire network is going through an upgrade. A fast rail link will be linking Amsterdam to Brussells by the end of the year, cutting journey times. Passenger capacity is being improved. Urban transport systems – especially in Amsterdam – provide a mesh network for easily getting around.

Further afield, Singapore was just amazing. From the island wide MRT, bus networks everywhere, local light rail systems around the more heavily populated zones, and a new monorail system feeding the island resort of Sentosa. Added to this a subsidised taxi system meant that getting around Singapore was very easy, quick and cheap.

All these aspects, combined, has meant that we have not needed a car for the last five years. I find I can rely on the urban transport system to get around, and from city to city via fast, reliable inter city links that do not cost the earth. This is the way to go.

So now we return to the UK. It boasts one real high-speed line linking London to the Channel tunnel. It was about ten years behind the French version. In fact, other than this link the UK only has plans (Reference), but nothing more. In the 1950’s a transport policy was commissioned and the result claimed suggest…

The government was advised it was a waste of money to invest heavily in the railways. They were a soon to be obsolete form of transport – since in 30 years’ time its passengers would instead be taking to the skies in helicopters.
[BBC News]

This might explain the recent transport policy review that failed to consider anything more improving motorway systems, a few local links, improved air connections. The following key areas were identified…

  • to invest in congested and growing city areas
  • to spend money on improving links between important urban areas
  • and to invest in improving gateways, or links between the UK and the countries with which we trade and do vital business
    [BBC News]

Where does the UK want to go? The road systems are clogged, slow and unusable; the rail systems are slow, expensive and full to capacity; airport hubs are filling up and also getting to the point of being full to capacity; cities are not planning anything more than charging cars for entering cities and using the odd bus here and there. The question is why? The rest of Europe is going in a very good direction, planning an effective infrastructure and implementing the plans. In the mean time the UK falls behind even the likes of the Czech Republic – in all fairness the urban infrastructure in CZ is fabulous and getting better with more and more investment. So why does the UK want to simply grind to a halt, I have no explanation.

That said, it looks like “minor” projects are getting the go-ahead. much like the Czech Republic (and other Eastern European nations) need to rebuild their railways, the government in the UK has given the go-ahead for some rebuilding. In my opinion this is far too little. Some of the more conjested lines need to go double-decker to increase capacity, something the UK has never looked into. Whilst the crossrail project will benefit London what happens to the rest of the rail system. Who knows.

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