Clean rail transport is vital for the UK’s future: now we need a government that can do it | Aneurin Redman-Blanc

WBy working on the railroad, we see our industry as part of the solution to the climate emergency, as it provides one of the most efficient and low-carbon modes of transportation. Right now in UK you can reduce CO2 the efficiency of a journey of about 70% from the car to the train. On an electric train, you can save 90%. That’s pretty good, especially with struggling road transport – and rising gasoline prices.

I started my railroad career as a teenager volunteering on the Mid-Hants Steam Railway and have been employed full time for the past five years. I now work in a consulting firm where we design everything from re-signaling schematics to connections in a control box. It’s a far cry from my childhood playing trains on the kitchen table. Every major project needs dozens of engineers, project managers and ground workers, most of them skilled specialists, and every project requires years of planning and the application of sustained political will.

But for years now, we’ve seen railroad upgrades stuck and scaled back as Westminster skimp on passengers and cut jobs needed for a just transition to a low-carbon industry. This transition requires a long-term national strategy, and Network Rail develops strategic plans over five-year blocks called control periods. Sadly, recent UK governments have preferred to announce big transformations followed by drastic cuts and U-turns.

For example, the upgrade of the Transpennine road between Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and York – announced in 2012 – was going to be a total modernization of the road with better services running on new track, new signage and in particular the electrification. But it was discontinued in 2015, and it’s always it has not been announced whether the electrification will reach the section that actually crosses the Pennines.

Despite its power to reduce transport emissions, electrification was officially canceled on several other projects: the Midland Main Line between Kettering and Sheffield, the Windermere branch in Cumbria, and the most infamous of the Great Western route. The Great Western Electrification Project – GWEP for connoisseurs – was to be Britain’s first major electrification project since 1994. It has been described as “the biggest overhaul of the Great Western route since Brunel began work on it. the line over 175 years ago. By the government in 2018 – and more recently as ‘The Hell Project’ by Network Rail Chairman Peter Hendy.

The ambition was to electrify from Paddington to Swansea, Bristol and Oxford, removing polluting diesel trains from part of the network. But the UK did not have the experience and supply chain for a project of this magnitude and as a result it was poorly specified and poorly planned. Costs rose until 2017, with then-transport secretary Chris Grayling – having used the project to justify repeated tariff increases – announced that electrification was “no longer necessary” for most vehicles. routes. Electrification has stopped in Cardiff, and passengers and communities have been grappling with the inefficient second best of two-mode trains that run for long periods of time on dirty diesel.

With GWEP’s delay and its associated projects largely canceled, the boom turned into collapse. Newly developed skills and specialized workforce were in excess of needs, including 150 of my industry colleagues in Swindon who were made redundant. Fortunately, workers and organizers of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) and its sister unions avoided massive layoffs as employers agreed to redeploy staff and offered voluntary layoffs. But even so, the skilled Great Western team was disbanded and those jobs, critical to the just transition to low CO2, abruptly ended.

Planning a big project every ten or two years, training a workforce from scratch each time and then abandoning it halfway through is not a way to invest in infrastructure. The Railway Industry Association’s (RIA) electrification costs challenge, in part a response to the chaos of the GWEP, contrasts this feast or famine approach with successful electrification programs in Germany and Scotland. These retain the experience, skills and low-carbon jobs without the risks or spiraling costs that plague GWEP.

A long-term infrastructure strategy doesn’t excite many people. Apparently not everyone is enthusiastic about trains either. But constant investment and planning ahead is essential if we are to complete the projects that will make a difference in the face of the climate emergency. We all deserve that certainty, especially the people who literally do the groundwork.

About Jun Quentin

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