Railways and the 2017 General Election

IMG_6585.jpgTransport has hardly captured headlines in an election campaign dominated by Brexit, dementia tax and NHS funding, yet there are some interesting comments and pledges within the partly manifestoes, notably the Labour Party’s proposal to renationalise the railway network by progressively resuming control of passenger services through not re-letting franchises as they expire. This is a theme echoed by the Green Party, which simply pledges a return of the railways to public ownership, without any detail whatsoever about how this might happen, or what it might cost.

HS2 gets a mention in the manifestoes of all the English-based parties, with all the three main parties remaining steadfastly behind the project, but UKIP and the Green Party both pledging to have it scrapped. While the Green Party simply describe it as “wasting money”, UKIP is rather more strident: “Spending £75 billion [wonder where that figure came from?] just to save a few minutes between London and Leeds is ludicrous and, we think, unethical” the party asserts.

Besides discussing its renationalisation plan, the Labour manifesto goes beyond pledging to complete HS2 by adding what it calls “Crossrail of the North (p91) and, perhaps most interesting of all, “a new Brighton Main Line for the South East” to its shopping list, along with Crossrail 2 in London. On electrification, it promises to deliver “across the whole country, including Wales and the South West” and also pledges to “consult with local communities to re-open branch lines.”

In contrast to specific schemes such as Crossrail 2 and the Oxford to Cambridge East-West Railway project, mentioned in a number of manifestoes, the Conservative Party is notable for a complete lack of detail or specifics. Having previously committed a limited amount of support for schemes such as East-West Railway, all we get (p24) is this vague promise: “We will focus on creating extra capacity on the railways, which will ease overcrowding, bring new lines and stations, and improve existing routes – including for freight.”

While not using the word nationalisation, the Liberal Democrats begin their transport pledges (p62) with a commendable undertaking to “Ensure that new rail franchises include a stronger focus on customers, including a programme of investment in new stations, lines and modern trains.”

The party also says it will establish government-run companies to take over troubled franchises such as Southern Rail, and an in an un-costed multi-billion pound catch-all says it will: “Pursue the electrification of the rail network, improve stations, re-open smaller stations [where?], restore twin-track lines to major routes [where?] and proceed with HS2, HS3 and Crossrail 2, including development of a high-speed network stretching to Scotland.”

Outside England, Plaid Cymru makes a bold pledge to re-open the 56-mile route from Aberystwyth to Carmarthen, where a recent and encouraging feasibility study suggested a price tag of around £600 million. In Scotland, the SNP fails to fully endorse an eagerly awaited southern extension of the highly successful Borders Railway, simply promising that: “SNP MPs will engage the UK government in discussions on the feasibility of improving cross-border rail links, including linking Carlisle to the Borders Railway”

Overall it is rather disappointing to see that HS2 continues to get a blank cheque from all the main parties in England and, while there is plenty of un-costed rhetoric about investment, there is not more specific commitment to deliver any of the longstanding re-opening schemes which campaigners have been championing for years and, in some cases, decades.

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