Earlier this month, Tony Berkeley, former chair of the Rail Freight Group and member of the Oakervee review panel, sent out the following:
The tragic derailment near Stonehaven earlier in August reminds us of the increasing severity of storms and floods on our classic rail system. It follows a warning only four weeks ago from the Office of Rail Regulation about the vulnerability of Network Rail assets to landslips and severe weather.
Government policy to target zero carbon by 2050 can only mean, for transport, increasing rail use and increasing investment including more electrification.Rail is by far the safest form of travel, over 1,000 times safer than road travel.
So there is a strong argument for greater investment in rail, in particular on the classic lines which were generally built over 150 years ago before the extreme weather hit us so frequently.
In my Dissenting Oakervee Report on HS2 (January 2020) I urged the government to prioritise local and regional lines and services in the areas served by HS2, at a cost of £128.5bn in addition to the £106bn cost of HS2.
In July 2020, along with Michael Byng, I published a report on improving the rail infrastructure of the South West at a cost of £1.2bn, less than 1% of the £106bn cost of HS2.
Both these reports reflect the greater need for improved local and regional rail connectivity and resilience, to encourage economic regeneration and help achieve a lower carbon transport system – something that HS2 does not do.
We must also consider whether the many reports of more permanent remote working, particularly by those who were travelling longer distances by rail, will not reduce demand for longer distance rail travel to the extent that the existing intercity services could serve customers well for many years. After all, the use of laptops on longer journeys also reduces the need for world-beating speeds on our small country!
However, Private Eye 1528 published last week reported that the Treasury wants to do another round of ‘Beeching’ cuts on the rail network to reduce the £700m per month it is paying to the railway to substitute the fares lost through Corona Virus lockdown, exacerbated by government advice to avoid public transport where possible.
If Treasury wants to save £700m per month on the rail sector, then it could cancel or reduce the scope of HS2, saving up to £120bn, and invest, instead, on modernisation the classic regional rail infrastructure and instruct the Department for Transport Ministers to encourage and promote rail transport rather than tell people to avoid rail where possible.
That is the quickest way of increasing the revenue of the railways and helping the transport sector achieve zero carbon.