Embracing the new normal for our railways

05 Dec 23

The average freight train takes a huge 76 HGVs off the road. Yes, really. Trains also emit 75% less greenhouse gas than trucks.

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A crisis is looming on our railways. With many commuters staying at home on Mondays and Fridays, Tuesday to Thursday has become the new office-working week. The railways are running at a loss. Increasing fares will make the situation worse and ongoing ‘sticking plaster’ Government bail-outs are out of the question, so something has to change.

In 2020, the railway franchise system created though the privatisation in the 90’s was scrapped in favour of companies running train lines on a management contract basis. This means the Government gets to keep fares – but it also leaves the Government exposed when railways are running at a loss.

Labour has committed to renationalising the railways if it wins the next election, but this isn’t a quick fix with some companies’ contracts set to run for several more years to come.

We need trains. They are one of the most environmentally friendly ways to travel and thousands of commuters depend on them. To keep them running, train timetables will soon start to shift, with a new weekend timetable running from Friday to Monday. This will mean less trains, but far more balanced capacity levels within them.

It will also mean a lot of extra capacity on the tracks – and with just 3% of freight currently transported by rail, could it be time we rethink the way goods are moved around the country?

The average freight train takes a huge 76 HGVs off the road. Yes, really. Trains also emit 75% less greenhouse gas than trucks. Combining these unbeatable stats with the removal of traffic from our roads would surely seem to be an environmental no-brainer.

Rethinking the way we transport goods clearly requires more thought and planning than I have set out here. It is not that simple! Replanning surrounding infrastructure, reconfiguring tracks and building more distribution centres around railways is just the start, but with empty passenger trains effectively burning a hole in the public purse, something is going to have to change soon.

Gemma Gallant Director,Engagement