Britain needs new infrastructure. It must become better at deciding what is going to be built and more clear-sighted about the consequences of the projects it choosesby Jay Elwes / February 20, 2019 / Leave a comment
Developments in technology and engineering have changed the way people move. Prospect convened a group of industry professionals, analysts and policymakers to discuss the future of transport, following its recent report on the subject. The event took place at Prospect’s offices in central Westminster.
James Rowntree, Vice President of Jacobs told the group that, “we’ve always lacked an integrated transport strategy in the UK. It’s always been ad hoc and short term. There’s an endless debate around whether it’s the north of England, whether it’s London. Well it’s all of that.” He stressed the importance of going ahead with investments in digital technologies and new infrastructure for modes of transport including electric cars.
Electric and hybrid vehicles, so recently considered exotic, are now thoroughly of the mainstream. And when it comes to rail, old diesel engine trains are being replaced by new electric models. Cities and towns are encouraging more of their inhabitants to cycle.
Allied to this is a huge change in data collection and management systems. Companies, authorities and also the onboard computers of the vehicles themselves are now able to gather and analyse vast tracts of data, again, a new phenomenon. Transport systems are becoming “smarter.”
Take for example the new braking systems currently employed on some lines on the London Underground. Trains are monitored from a central hub and no train is allowed to get within braking distance of the one ahead of it. That simple-sounding system is in fact only possible because of the data-analytical signalling systems that are being introduced. The current widespread method is a “box” system, where if one train goes into a particular zone, no other may enter until the one in front has left. In comparison to the braking distance model, the box system is extremely inefficient and means many fewer trains can run on a stretch of track.
Remarkably, it was a system first introduced by the Victorians. That legacy is in part a testament to the innovative brilliance of the Victorian engineers who made much of the infrastructure on which we now still depend. But it also shows, very clearly, that Britain has a huge programme of modernisation ahead of it.
The effects could be substantial, “but it’s part of a system,” noted Julie Carrier of Systra. New signalling systems cannot do the job on their own. Challenges arise…