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UKIP and railway policy – some suggestions

UKIP has a strong and increasing representation at local level and this strength could be the key to enabling progress to be made on some worthwhile rail re-instatement projects. For example, the now funded East-West rail scheme, which aims to re-instate the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity line, began with pressure from a consortium of local authorities, which has now committed £45,000,000 toward the cost. Additional schemes (of which more later) would serve a better purpose, be spread more widely, reach completion more quickly and cost a fraction of the billions earmarked for that irrelevance called HS2. The justification is straightforward.

Demand for rail travel in the UK continues to grow. The number of passenger train journeys made in Britain has more than doubled in the 20 years since privatisation. Figures from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) reveal that in 2013/14 they rose to 1.27 billion, a 3.3% rise on the previous year and an astonishing 115% increase on the 589 million journeys made in 1995, the last full year of British Rail.The rise is doubly remarkable since the railways were originally privatised in the expectation of inexorable and long-term decline after decades of BR rationalisation and closures. Instead the opposite has proved to be the case.

The number of journeys contained wholly within geographical regions in that year increased by 3.6% to 847.8 million. This was partly due to increases of 6.3% in London; 2.9% in Scotland; 4.2% in the East of England and 3.1% in the South West.The total number of journeys for Scotland was up 2.9% to 89.6 million and in Wales the figure rose by 1% to 19.2 million. The largest Welsh increase (7.8%) occurred on the Merthyr Tydfil branch, whose ridership figures have outperformed the national average every year since 2006. The only area that saw a reduction was the NW of England, with a fall of 1.1%.

ORR figures show that freight traffic is also increasing. In the year 2013/14 it rose 6% over the previous year. Three recent improvements, namely the chords at Nuneaton, Ipswich and Doncaster, have been built to create new paths and increase flexibility.

Rail re-openings in the Welsh Valleys and Scotland have been great successes, where forecasts for passenger numbers were quickly exceeded and often by considerable margins. Indeed, such is the success ofnew Welsh lines that some have already been selected for electrification. Only last week, on 5th February, the railhead reached Galashiels and the current terminus at Tweedbank, as the northern third of the closed Carlisle-Edinburgh trunk route is rebuilt to modern standards. It is due to begin public service on 6th September and the resolve exists in Scotland to extend it yet further,to Melrose and Hawick, perhaps again reaching Carlisle.

The time is ripe for more Beeching and BR-era closures to be reversed. Whilst retaining its anti-HS2 stance, UKIP could announce support for specific proposals with which people can more readily identify. In conjunction with industry partners (and local authorities through whose areas these routes run and which formulate local transport policy) there should be a positive-minded appraisal of former lines that have a realistic case for being reopened, not only to serve an immediate area but to provide new, low-pollution work and leisure opportunities, relieve busier lines, provide an alternative route in the event of engineering work or an accident, to segregate freight and be a driver of regeneration.

Investment is currently taking place in our railway system but there is a range of smaller local projects that do not need to make a direct call on the national finances. By creating local rail partnerships much can be achieved. Perhaps the prime example of this is the Swanage Railway (SR), which has spent decades reversing the closure of the branch from that seaside townto the mainline at Wareham. It could serve as a model for other intending ventures. On 5th February, Rail Minister Clare Perry inaugurated the bespoke signalling system which will allow SR trains to provide a public service from the coast on to the national network: Swanagerailway.com

SR is part of a group called the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership, composed of Dorset County Council, Purbeck District Council, Network Rail, Southwest Trains, The Borough of Poole and oil company Perenco. This, I would venture, is the real manifestation of the Big Society working at a local level.

Legislation, regulation, planning, and health and safety considerations cause some projects to have a frustrating, costly and drawn-out gestation period and very likely strangle others shortly after conception.

From The Transport and Works Act 1992, and particularly The Railway Act 1993, regulation has increased. This has created onerous processes required to comply with legislation and regulation, often unnecessarily or unreasonably, and frequently victim to local interpretation. The standards applicable to building HS2 also apply to local railway re-opening initiatives. Previously, a less burdensome Light Railway Order was available for the latter case.UKIP’s avowed intent to leave the EU, and the consequent bonfire of Brussels’ diktats, could relieve this country of the straightjacket of so much unnecessary bureaucracy and stifling restraint.

I would suggest the following as candidates for serious consideration for UKIP to support:

  • In the private sector, Moorland and City Railway has taken ownership of a self-contained network centred on Leekbrook Junction in north Staffordshire. It aims to reconnect Leek to the national system, take quarry products off the highway, and, the prize, re-instate the line to Alton via which many visitors to the famed theme park could arrive, much to the relief of local roads and residents. This project has so much going for it, which should make it a priority for local support.
  • Re-instate the missing Matlock-Buxton section of the mainline through the heart of the scenic Peak District, relieving the very busy A6, which, due to the physical geography of the area, cannot be easily bypassed.
  • SELRAP Skipton-East Lancashire Railway Action Partnership. This project seeks to re-instate the 11 miles of line between Colne, Lancashire and Skipton, Yorkshire, linking cities and regions across the north.
  • The campaign claims the support of 891 organisations, 754 individual politicians, 500 members and 67 affiliated groups but getting money from the DfT to fund this has thus far failed.
  • Brighton Main Line 2. This sees the re-instatement of the line between Uckfield and Lewes, either as a standalone or as a component of grander strategic route.
  • Re-instate the line southward from Stratford-upon-Avon (currently a terminus) to the Oxford-Worcester Cotswold line, to which it was once joined at Honeybourne Junction. Services could emanate from Paddington and open up direct access from the whole Thames Valley to this world-famous location.
  • Penrith to Keswick Railway. This commercial venture is attempting to re-open the line into the heart of North Lakeland and bring relief to the road system. It seems to have an uphill battle with unsympathetic authorities. Despite protests, a company was allowed to build on, and thus breach, the trackbed.

There are many other possibilities. The Association of Train Operators (ATOC) has a wish list of lines they would like to see brought back to life, which they think they would be successful.  It published a report entitled “Connecting Communities: Expanding Access to the Rail Network”, which describes selected line re-openings and notes the changes that have occurred in the last 40 years to justify them.They are most likely to know what could be viable and would prove a good source from which to assess projects and formulate policy.

Those who do not want something to happen will always find excuses why it cannot be done whereas those who do want it will have the eagerness to see reasons why it can be done. What is most needed is a political party that can be the enabler. That could be UKIP. Besides, given all the money saved by not being in the EU, so much should suddenly be possible.

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About Richard Mott (68 Articles)
Richard is a UKIP supporter and 'keyboard warrior"

9 Comments on UKIP and railway policy – some suggestions

  1. With the development of vehicle automation, the boundaries between roads and railways will disappear. One of the biggest issues with rail capacity is the headway between trains – the “waste” of track space is enormous, with track occupation well below 5%.

    Cars with manual drivers can fill up a larger percentage of the road capacity, but then accidents happen. Automated vehicles (on trunk routes) can overcome the safety issue, then speeds could go up too.

    Start introducing the kind of dynamic signalling on railways that was developed for the DLR and is now being applied to some tube lines, and rail space utilisation goes up.

    See where I am going? Eventually, trunk road and rail capacity can be shared, combined, making best use of both track/road spaces. That day is a decade or two ahead, but a forward-looking government could place the country well in order to benefit from it, both from the use of such combined systems, AND as a worldwide vendor of the technology.

  2. Very interesting thread and obviously well researched and on the face of it,should be a worthwhile UKIP enterprise.
    I only have one personal problem.
    I am a petrolhead, always avoided the railways as inconvenient in performance i.e never available when you want/need them, too expensive (for my pocket anyway) do not provide door to door service under any guise and anyway cannot compete with road costs (?) o0
    r capacity – to me they are an anachronism, that like canals have residual uses
    Not even sure they are greener than roads.
    Last Railway journey – the watercress line, that looks successful, put that down for extension!

    • The reasons you cite are understandable and, sadly, all too familiar for many of the travelling public – but when it works (which is a lot of the time) it does work well. It’s the problems that make the headlines. Years of dithering and under-investment by both government parties are to blame but things are steadily improving. The railway industry has a big job of work to win over doubters like you. An expanded, modern, efficient railway will have greater benefits. Why not try a non-heritage train journey for leisure and, if you are eligible, apply for the appropriate railcard? With a little research there are some great offers and savings to be had – I know.

      • Ha,ha,ha,ha,ha,
        Sorry for the mirth, but my aversion to railways is of long standing, ever since the day I got my first car.
        Goodby shanks pony, goodby public transport, freedom, independence, the ability to do my own thing, without reference to any time or personal control- heady stuff and still at the age of 79plus, I doubt I will change.
        But to me as a rural dweller and living ,alone my own a car is vital (2 buses a day).
        Last year I had a medical problem, since there was no one to see me through hospital and convalescence, my younger daughter in Surrey drew the short straw and I commuted roughly every 3 weeks from May to December from Lincolnshire to Surrey and then from her house cross country to the hospitals (5 in all)Scans,Consultations,operations etc.etc.
        Whatever the cost trains were no use to me.
        I hope there are not too many unreconstructed like me about – but I`ll bet there`s a sizeable element for whom railways have precisely no attraction or use – so let`s have a fair do for the motorist (Bet they make more journeys than railway travellers ever will)

        • Given your particular circumstances and location, I understand the cause of your mirth. Lincolnshire lost many lines in the Beeching/BR era, which you may well recall, but, as you say, nothing quite beats the car for convenience.

  3. Normal railways have to be built without too much gradient. Therefore why don’t we construct separate super cycle lanes on these flat routes beside the railway?. Cycle lanes on roads are pretty useless because of the number of interruptions in the flow of traffic.

    • Cycle routes have been created on former railway formations. For instance, many miles of the disused course between Yatton and Cheddar form The Strawberry Line, a railway walk and part of the National Cycle Network route 26. Cyclist/footpath routes adjacent to, or part of, a national railway line will be avoided wherever possible and are usually only found beside heritage lines, which operate at low speed and relatively infrequently. The Bitton Railway near Bristol is just such an example.

      • Yes, but these routes are mere “paths” on disused lines. I’m proposing having proper dare I say high speed cycle lanes along existing working railways.

  4. Scrap HS2 spend the money on our rail infrastructure and we could have the finest rail system in the world

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