Adonis outlines transport aims

30 June 2009

The Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, outlined how he sees the future of transport in the UK in a recent speech to the Transport Times Conference. ASLEF welcomes his obvious enthusiasm for rail electrification, his acceptance that we lag well behind Europe in high-speed lines and his assertion that improved transport is essential for ‘national prosperity and personal fulfilment’.


He promised announcements ‘in the coming months’ for electrifying the two busiest diesel-operated inter-city lines – the Great Western Main Line from London to Bristol and Swansea and the Midland Main Line from London to Derby , Nottingham and Sheffield .


He also accepted that the current 68 miles of high-speed lines in the UK looks rather pathetic next to the rest of Europe which currently boast 3,000 miles in operation, 2,000 under construction and 5,300 in prospect. That is why he has asked the new High Speed Two company to make recommendations for a north-south high-speed rail plan.


He justifies his faith in rail on the same basis as ASLEF - its lower carbon pollution compared with cars and planes, and recognises the benefit of moving freight by rail.


He repeated the optimism he outlined when he spoke at ASLEF’s annual conference (AAD) earlier in the year, reiterating that our national rail system now carries more passengers than at any time since before Beeching, with high levels of safety and punctuality. He also praised the transformation of north-south and east-west London rail links which will unite overground and underground through Thameslink and Crossrail.


His aim nationally, he said, was to provide extra capacity on a sustainable basis, to shift to low carbon technologies and practices and to radically improve the attractiveness of public transport.


Another area of agreement between the minister and the union is that it needs a long-term strategy, over a 20 or 30 year period. Our concern is that this is undermined by the current system of privatised franchising, and that his view supports our argument that rail should belong to the public sector.


Lord Adonis felt that road congestion especially on motorways can be solved by ‘hard-shoulder running’, reduced speed limits and better information for motorists. ASLEF is sure this can help – but sees freight on rail as a policy much more likely to succeed. We were also disappointed that he has dropped the concept of a national pay-as-you-drive road tax plan.


He also, somewhat strangely in view of his other statements, praised the extension of Heathrow airport – but this is not news and the announcement is made more palatable by the commitment to high-speed rail within the UK.


Environmental factors and carbon reduction must, he believes, be ‘notable factors’ in all transport planning. He hopes research will provide less polluting cars and lorries – rather fancifully in ASLEF’s view – and the development of electric vehicles. He also supports, without too much detail, the ‘decarbonisation of aviation and shipping’ and would like us all to cycle more. He wants to provide many more cycle parking spaces at railway stations. He is also in favour of improved ticketing facilities.


‘There is a lot more good than ill in what Andrew Adonis said both at this conference and at our AAD,’ says Keith Norman. ‘I sincerely hope he – and this and future governments - maintain this optimism and commitment to public transport, to high-speed rail and to electrification. It is clearly the right policy and we support it, while reserving the right to disagree fundamentally as to whether it can be delivered with a free-market ethos rather than a public service outlook.’


To see the whole text of Lord Adonis’s speech

click here

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