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Election Special: Transport Policies

Posted by at 04:35 on Monday 26 April 2010

Many think the future of the UK's transport system is with High Speed RailMany think the future of the UK's transport system is with High Speed RailConfused by the Parties’ transport policies? Finding it hard to tell your green from your red, blue and yellow? In the first of our election special features, we’ve summarised the Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and Green party policies on transport.

High speed rail - the need for speed
Unsurprisingly, rail travel features prominently in the transport policy of all four parties, with the recently mooted High Speed Rail playing a major part in their visions of the future UK transport system. Labour have already proposed the first part of the network to link a rebuilt Euston to a new Birmingham city centre station, with a link to the Heathrow Express, and journey times to Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield slashed to under 75 minutes (3.5 hours to Scotland). Construction is slated for 2017, opening in phases from 2026. They also wish the service to be low cost and accessible to all.

The Conservatives intend to approve a high speed line that connects London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, later extending to Newcastle and Scotland, with high speed links from this route to both Heathrow and the Channel Tunnel. They intend for work to start in 2015. The Liberal Democrats also express support for a high-speed rail link, with a long-term commitment for it to be extended to Scotland, and with a costing plan that ensures that local rail improvements and existing projects are not sacrificed for it. The Green Party say that they too support “in principle” a new north-south high speed line, as it would reduce flights within the UK.

Rail Franchising
Labour recently issued a paper, Future of Franchising, in which it proposes that future rail franchise terms will last at least 10 years. The party do not, however, seek to develop a single approach and have concerns that longer franchises reduce competition.

The Conservatives go further, proposing franchise terms of 15 to 20, with agreements that are “more flexible and less prescriptive,” shifting decision making from the Government to rail industry professionals – with the Government’s role more focused on the “overall strategic direction” of the railways. Bids would also be assessed on quality and prior performance. The Liberal Democrats envisage replacing the current franchise system with a more passenger-focused system, whereby conditions of franchises would include fare reductions where possible. The Green Party propose a return to public ownership of public transport, thereby ending the franchise system. 

Greening the rail network
Labour has suspended procurement of diesel rolling stock in favour of electrification, with its lower carbon emissions and increased capacity, and it outlined plans last July for wide-spread electrification and infrastructure upgrade, focusing initially on the Great Western mainline and Liverpool-Manchester line, as well as a possible crossrail extension to Reading enabled by electrification.

The Conservatives acknowledge that there is a strong case for electrification, but have concerns about funding. Whilst they do not provide detailed information on their policy regarding electrification, the Liberal Democrats have said that the crossrail extension would not be a priority. Again, the Green Party do not specifically outline their policy on electrification, but have a strong emphasis on improving and expanding public transport, stating that “the new investment in public transport should itself be in low-carbon technologies as far as possible.” 

Increasing capacity
While Labour provided for the introduction of 1,300 additional vehicles during the 2009-2014 period, it is unsure how many vehicles are actually envisaged, though they are currently procuring rolling stock for Crossrail. The Conservatives point to the suspension of the Super Express Trains and Intercity Express programme as a failure of the Labour Government to keep promises on additional capacity, but they propose to scrutinise Crossrail in a bid to cut costs, if elected (though they have indicated general support for the project). Beyond the new high-speed rail project, the Liberal Democrats have not made specific capacity-related commitments, but the Greens intend to invest in new Light Rapid Transit systems and expand the rail and water freight networks, as well as opening additional stations on existing rail routes. 

Cont'd... Part 2

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