Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Monday, March 22, 2010
A comment from Mick Knox in response to Ian W's post yesterday -
Congestion is certainly the reason a lot of people use rail now, and to take the Portishead Branch as an example how long would it take using a train, compared with a car, to commute into Bristol? The public understand this argument well, and it also stands up with the switch to electric cars. What is the journey time from Radstock to Bristol, or Bath? And would that be easily beaten by train today? I would have thought easily so?
Most motorists would love to see more freight on the railways as it would leave more road space for them, together with less roadworks due to the damage caused by the heavy goods vehicles.
There is nothing more frustrating than sitting in traffic jams, so yes congestion is an issue the general public will understand. Post ‘Peak Oil’ it may not be, but today it is, so I suggest we use this to our advantage.
It was a valid reason not to close the Somerset & Dorset and therefore it is a reason to re-open it again.
My own view was that we could wrong foot ourselves by talking about congestion as a problem into the future. But I think there's a way to tie this all together. And perhaps I was being too dogmatic ...
Firstly we need to understand why there is congestion. If road really was a mode for the future then surely road development would continue as a reaction to congestion? Congestion would perhaps happen somewhere and measures would then be undertaken to get rid of it. But this doesn't happen. We need to understand why.
It seems to me that governments are well aware of the impact of Peak Oil, even if they are trying to keep it from us. They hide the measures needed to deal with it under the 'climate change' banner but any intelligent person sees through that quickly enough. (Clearly the world is warming and our activities are responsible for much of it, but this will slow down as Peak Oil hits so it's not a long term problem unless we reach certain tipping points). Governments will also be aware of the impending end of cheap air travel but they use different methods to hide this in their devious equations, like proposing a new runway for Heathrow knowing full well it wil never be built but being able to pass the blame on to climate change activists for example.
But underneath all deviousness and posturing there is a very real fear by government that this is a problem so big that they may not be able to contain it, hence the fact it's hidden at the moment from the general public. It may even be that climate change was put forward as a safe alternative just to test some of the measures that will be needed.
Okay, there was a lot of waffle there, but it does underline why road development has ground to a halt. It not only shows that governments are well aware that petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles have had their day, but that the proposed alternatives will NOT fill the gap. Hence the current level of roads will be more than adequate to cope with future traffic needs. This means that congestion is a problem now, whilst oil-derived fuels are so incredibly cheap, but will not be in the future.
There's another side issue which concerns fuel prices. People are surprised that the retail price has remained stubbornly high despite the falling price of crude oil (at least from its 2007 highs of $147 barrel). This is easily explained by the lack of refining infrastructure. New refineries are not being built because the oil companies are even more aware than we are of the looming oil shortages. There's no point in building new refining facilities as whilst they may be needed for a few years they will be derelict in a few decades as the raw material will have dried up. Hence the current level of refining capacity will be more than adequate to cope with future needs.
So how do we apply all this to the New S&D without ending up with egg on our faces? I think we need to set current congestion levels within a long term framework. We've all been held up in traffic jams and they are without doubt both very annoying and a terrible waste of precious time. They also have a damaging effect on economic activity. Mick has mentoned the problem of heavy lorries and this is something we can really exploit. Car drivers hate them and railways are desperate to grab the freight they currently carry. So we need to encourage aggressive pricing wars between railfreight companies and the road based freight companies. Rail will become more and more advantaged as the system expands and the price of fuel goes up. Whilst railways will also be affected by the rising cost of energy the 400% extra efficiency of rail will work for rail and against road in this context. Freight will start switching from road to rail, and the New S&D will be as much a freight carrier as a passenger carrier. So this part of our programme should appeal to car drivers, even if they don't (for now) plan to use our trains. But it won't hurt to throw Peak Oil into the equation and say to drivers that by pushing freight onto new railways the infrastructure will then be in place for a return of passenger services on most lines as the oil runs out. They don't need to believe in Peak Oil to suffer from its effects! As the price of driving a private car goes stratospheric then people will return to the railways in their droves. It may be the last thing that goes, but go it will!