Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
back to the future
This is an advert from the early 20th century - for an electric car. We all know that the internal combustion engine won the battle. Why? Simple - it is far cheaper to use petrol and diesel than electricity.
So why is the electric car about to replace internal combustion? It's nothing to do with global warming, but everything to do with economics. Governments, oil professionals and even some car manufacturers know that the game's up. The trumpeting of a tiny oil find last week in the press, an oil find described as 'giant' yet only big enough to supply the world for eleven DAYS, is a clue as to how bad things are getting. These are desperate times, only delayed slightly by the recession. Oil is once again heading upwards. Forecasts of $200-$500 a barrel are beginning to be made again. At these prices, even the bottom end, all civilian air traffic and most road traffic will vanish.
The average economist claims that as the price of oil rises more exploration will kick in alleviating any shortages. This may be true, but the important thing to bear in mind is that this oil will be more expensive. Peak oil effects will still happen because many drivers will be priced out of the market.
So this last final gasp of personal private transport seems to be heading for - electric cars. This week's Economist (5.9.09 vol 392 number 8647 pp79-81) had an interesting article on this coming transport revolution. The whole article seemed to pivot around whether the cars would be recharged at home, or simply change batteries at service stations. But at no point is it discussed as to where all this extra energy is going to come from, which grated somewhat with an article in the same magazine a few weeks earlier that forecast regular power cuts in the UK from 2013 onwards, because current capacity is being CUT as nuclear power stations are being decommissioned without being replaced. And this is before all the extra demand from electric cars!
Face it, nobody wants electric cars out of choice. They are going to be expensive, have limited range and still use loads of conventional energy in their construction - and will need oil for their tyres and, of course, for all that asphalt in the road services. All it will do is delay the inevitable switch to rail by a few years.
What really needs to happen, in the UK, is for the government to actually admit that road transport has no future. They need to get cross party support for this admission so that no other party benefits in an election from the truth being announced. They then need to selectively close roads, switch all freight to rail, abandon all new road developments and begin to build at least 200-300 miles of new railways EVERY year. Reversing the Beeching cuts will only be the start. They also need to speed up the planning process so that local initiatives can cheaply introduce light rail to link small towns and villages, factories and trading areas, to the main network. Urban trams need to be introduced to ALL cities and towns of 30,000 population and more.
The future is rail, electrically powered from sustainable sources (including nuclear) or steam powered from wood burning. All communities need to have either heavy or light railways, locally owned and operated, feeding into a nationally or internationally owned high speed trans-European rail network which is already beginning to replace doomed air travel.
This is the future into which the New S&D is boldly leading the way - pushing against the biggest open door in history even if sometimes it doesn't seem that way.
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