Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I try not to put dry economic articles on here as I know they leave a lot of you cold - and people who know me are always a little surprised that underneath my no nonsense exterior there is a very overeducated academic trying to get out!
But I do think that this is not a bad place to put a few musings on the way economics will direct all future land transport policy towards various forms of rail.
One of the upward pressures on the oil price is the lack of refining facilities. This is one of the first signs of the looming shortages. Oil company managers, for all their outward appearance of being out-of-touch clowns, are aware of the finite nature of their industry. There does come a time when it's simply not worth setting up new refinieries because the cost of setting them up and maintaining them will never be met by the profits from refining future dwindling oil supplies. And they can't be used for anything else. I think this realisation was passed a few years ago, and hopes for any new refining capacity are simply dreams rooted in the past.
Rising oil prices, particularly at a time of stagnant or falling economic growth - now almost certainly the new paradigm - will inevitably reduce the use of roads. A lot of road travel is discretionary so can be dropped, or substituted, when times are hard. This reduces the tax take and consequently the amount of money available for maintaining the road network. A decline in standards, the consequent increase in congestion, even whilst roads are emptying, will set up a virtuous circle of decreasing road use.
The ability to transfer freight by road will actually decrease as it becomes more and more difficult for haulage companies to economically move freight - especially against a resurgent rail network increasingly favoured by government. There may be a brief spell when roads have a final golden fling, as the wealthy few that can still afford to run cars drive on almost empty roads.
Meanwhile the more intelligent and proactive oil companies will be switching to rail construction and operation, and the car manufacturers will switch to the production of locomotives, rolling stock and trams. Once this process starts nothing, short of total climate breakdown or societal breakdown will stop it. That process is about to begin.
And where will the S&D fit into all of this? Well, by starting early and building our contacts and skills now, we'll have a head start over most other communities that suddenly see the need to get their trains back. We will localise more as the transport costs of goods continue to rise (even where moved by rail), small businesses will sprout up along our route and will need their products moved to their market places. Passengers will flock to the trains, mainly to get to Bath, Bristol and Bournemouth to buy goods, but also to link with the main line network at those places and Templecombe. The whole agenda for rail will be one of reasonable and sustained growth and innovation, as the rails reach out to more and more places.
And the road network? Hopefully small sections in towns may continue to be served by some electric vehicles, perhaps even electric buses and taxis. But the intercity and intertown links will disappear back to nature except for those sections that are converted to cycleways, which will inevitably have to relocate from the formerly abandoned rail trackbeds that, for a few decades, were not used properly!