Controversy alert. How much will commuting be permanently cut after Covid? Conversations and back-of-envelope estimates suggest… what?… 30%?… 50%? Is that a threat to our railways or is it an opportunity?
Should we welcome working and conferencing from home as reducing the need for planet-damaging travel and improving work-life balance? Maybe up to a point. All who meet on “Zoom”, plus teachers and students struggling to engage in distance learning, vital NHS and other key workers including rail staff, know you just need to meet physically. And in the arts and music human interaction sparks creativity – surely a growing part of a future green economy.
As we decarbonise, travel becomes less damaging. More walking and cycling, plus electric trains, trams, cars and buses. Railways will be vital in a green economy supporting human creativity and wider wellbeing, through “sociable” transport serving the whole community. Here are seven suggested principles for discussion:
- Crowded trains were never healthy. So no going back to sardine-can commuting. Let’s spread demand across the day making load factors more even. Social distancing is with us for some time.
- If frequencies have to be cut, let it be just that. No line closures.
- And no cuts in track capacity. Might some big projects be delayed
favouring regional enhancements? “Northern Sparks” electrification is essential. But what about HS2 and NPR?
- No cuts on minimal service lines like Leeds-Lancaster/Carlisle, the Whitby line – or our Brighouse line. The principle of half-hourly minimum service on urban routes remains sound. The Calder Valley has more than that and needs it.
- If some peak services are reduced, released rolling stock must improve reliability, open up off-peak travel for more people and maybe avoid some capacity investment.
- London may be most affected by more working from home. So no making so-called “loss-making” lines up North suffer most. Remember levelling up! Let it be fair, North with South, and Calder Valley with Trans-Pennine.
- To get traffic off roads onto rail, let’s have deep integration with reregulated buses, trams and active travel routes. Make sociable transport competitive against cars for more complex journeys that are not focussed on city centres. Many people never use the train, so there’s a huge potential market to be tapped.
It stretches credibility to demand trains run nearly empty in a nominally rich nation where we seem to struggle to feed all of our children or look after older people.
Let us have trains that carry comfortable loads of people with services designed to be useful to more and more. It’s not all about the big cities.
Header Image: “195125 at Sowerby Bridge” flickr photo by Aaron 56125 https://flickr.com/photos/aaronsrailwayphots/50164627971 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license