13 May 2010

New Government - What it offers transport

After the British election a new coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrtas has been decided upon.

With regard to transport and infrastructure what most interests us is laid out in the agreement document which appears on the websites of both political parties and states:

Tax Measures:
The parties agree that a switch should be made to a per-plane, rather than per-passenger duty; a proportion of any increased revenues over time will be used to help fund increases in the personal allowance.


The establishment of a high-speed rail network.
The cancellation of the third runway at Heathrow.
The refusal of additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted.
The replacement of the Air Passenger Duty with a per flight duty.

These are not many words to express transport policy for the next (fixed?) five years of coalition government. Let us look at them anyway.

The first and last points are the same referring to the Air Passenger Duty(APD). This is a long demanded and logical reform. Planes produce the pollution not persons. If the aim is to tax pollution then it is quite logical to tax a half empty plane as much as a full one. In fact the next logical step would be to apply such a tax to cover a mixture of fuel consumption, engine efficiency, gas pollutants and noise footprint.

If that were the case then (a) airlines would be pushed into acquiring more efficient and less polluting planes - accelerating their fleet renewal plans (b)it could be carried over to the rest of Europe so that it would not result in being a discriminatory tax only applied in Britain - here Britain would occupy the moral (environmental) high ground and find tremendous support in many countries(principally Northern Europe).
However, beware. The Treasury does not give up any tax hikes easily. This modification of APD will not mean a big reduction for passengers. There might well be a nominal one - to satisfy public opinion and ensure votes - but the overall tax income wiil be higher than before - with the excuse that the deficit has to be covered.

The stopper put on any runway expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted is a logical step for the Conservatives and the LibDems. In our opinion it is quite erroneous. Instead of building an airport in the Thames estuary, the best of the present infrastucture should be taken advantage of. Instead of building macro airports like Schipol or CDG, London should realise it has a marvellous patrimony of airport infrastructure with five airports serving both the country nationally and the South East regionally. Take note that H,G & S were mentioned by name but Luton was not. 

Is that the get out option? In fact Luton is the best option for development. It lies next to the Midland Main Line with services direct into St.Pancras (with the HSR1 and Kings Cross connections) and is also served by Thameslink (for Gatwick and the south coast). While for any body who lives north of Watford it is(and will be) a much more convenient and better connected airport on the updated and electrified MML than any of the other three (H, G & S).

The establishment of a high speed rail network has to be looked at again. Obviously, the present proposal(HSR2) through the Chilterns will prove too difficult for the Conservatives to accept(it runs through too many Conservative constituencies). Expect a new line to proposed which follows the M40 more closely and so is not so straight (therefore, not so fast - which after all will mean less energy consumption).

On this blog we have made several proposals for a HSR strategy. Let us hope that a logical, affordable, accessable high speed rail strategy is drawn up by this new government. The Birmingham connection will most probably the first line to be laid but what will happen after that? Take note that the important decisions (concerning money) will not be applicable until 2017 which will be the next parliament after this (fixed?) term of five years. So the financing problems will be for a new government not the present coalition.

The date 2017 was used because Labour envisaged starting the high speed rail line to Birmingham after Crossrail will have been finished. The construction can start with new finance and the present engineers and operatives will be freed up from Crossrail and available for new projects. However, Crossrail was one of the projects to be "looked at" in the spending review and so was not certain to continue. The majority opinion we read is that the project is too far advanced to be cancelled. Also the UK government does not finance it all, with businesses paying special taxes for it and local authories putting up some of the money. We reckon that, at worst, some parts of the project might well be delayed.  

The Crossrail project was conspicuously absent from the coalition agreement which could well bode well for the project. However, there are other approved projects which have not been mentioned either. Will they be under review, with the possibility of getting the chop? 

The most important is the GWML electrification to Bristol and South Wales. This line from (Heathrow) Airport Junction to Maidenhead is to be electrified as part of the Crossrail project so that should go ahead. There were talks of extending Crossrail to Reading which is logical and not a difficult proposition. Extending the electrification westwards from there is relatively easy since the original GWML built by Brunel was constructed at a high standard. No great modifications are needed to make this line a semi-highspeed one. It would be well worth the investment and not relatively expensive.

The other important investment is the Liverpool - Earlestown - Manchester electification for only(!!) GBP100 million. This is hardly a candidate for the chop when it is so necessary. Also there are the infill electrification projects: L/P - St.Helens - Wigan NW; M/C - Bolton - Preston; Preston - Blackpool North; Crewe - Chester. All these are necessary and overdue to make operations on the lines easier and faster(only using electric traction) and greener (no diesels). Beware, however, most of the projects run through Labour held constituencies so anything could happen. We now have to see how things develop.

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