The future of transport
Prospect's new supplement
The message running through this collection of pieces is that Britain is at the beginning of a large- scale change. The technological advances of the last 20 years have led to a surge in innovations in battery technology, electric motors and low-emission propulsion systems. Now is the time for that know-how to be put into practice, and when it happens, the impact will be huge.
Allied to that is the need for substantial infrastructure projects. If you’ve got a new electric trainline, then to get power into the engines you need overhead cables—miles and miles of them. But building these new systems has not been easy. The electrification of the Great Western Railway has been fraught with problems. Even the introduction of a new timetable by Northern Rail has resulted in the near-collapse of the system.
Politicians are always annoyed about the trains—perhaps they should spend a little longer worrying about the buses. After all, more Brits go by bus than by rail and with the exception of London the UK’s buses are in a sorry state.
And even the buses that do come along need to watch their environmental impact, because they remain one of the worst sources of pollution on Britain’s roads. So if central government does free up more money for the nation’s bus routes, then some of that will have to be spent on fitting emissions-reducing components to old-style diesel buses.
That goes for the old combustion-engined taxis and trucks too. But these last will be particularly hard to make less polluting. The huge torque of the diesel engine is still needed to pull those heavy containers over long motorway stretches.
Some of that road freight has to cross the Channel—and that brings us to Brexit. What on Earth will happen to Britain’s ports if we leave the EU? Will the M20 down to Dover become little more than a lorry-park? It’s one of the most important transport lanes in the country. How can Dover and other ports adapt to make sure that the current easy system of “roll-on, roll- off” isn’t interrupted? And what happens if it can’t be done?
These are just some of the challenges addressed in this series of articles. Perhaps we can take encouragement from the knowledge that Britain has done it before. The great 19th century rail terminuses are testament to Britain’s ability to put up majestic and highly-efficient public works. What Britain needs now is the political will to do it again.
“There are occasions when continuing to try and renew and manage on your existing infrastructure is just insufficient,” says John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Committee. “We are at one of those points now.”
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