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Tuesday 7 July 2009

Back On Track?

If there is one Government department where continuity would be a good thing, and where there is precious little of it, that department would be Transport. Ministers came and went with monotonous regularity in the Thatcher and Major years, and despite the presence of “Shagger” Prescott, there has been little stability in the Blair and Brown years either.

So the rail industry, as ever rather more closely coupled to prevailing Government policy than other transport modes, has had to make do while the revolving door spins yet again. Until, that is, the recent reshuffle, and the arrival at the DfT of Andrew Adonis.

While there has been much made of the fact that Adonis is an appointed, rather than elected, politician, he has been out and about touring the rail system to experience its strengths and weaknesses first hand. The Guardian’s Ian Jack caught up with him last weekend, and despite the imminent exit of NatEx from the East Coast franchise (as I mentioned here), he is in an optimistic mood.

And he will need to be. The rail industry faces the same resource squeeze (yes, that means less money) as any other recipient of Government funds. But there is also a need to properly modernise more of the network – meaning the spread of electrification: this has been shown to give a more than adequate return on cost benefit analysis for routes such as the Midland and Great Western main lines.

The pressure on costs may well mean making some of the hardware – layouts, signalling, and in particular trains – last longer. This is, however, familiar territory: the InterCity 125 trains introduced in the late 1970s with an intended service life of fifteen years are, suitably refurbished, still going. This is not a problem. As ever, the need is for someone to provide the direction and purpose – with perhaps a little optimism thrown in.

So no pressure, then.

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