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Andrew's view: a new case for rail technology

The government has just published its response to the Eddington and Stern reports. It may be hard to believe, but the atmosphere has changed.

Andrew Boagey is Systra UK business director

However much we tap on the glass, the barometer needle is now definitely pointing towards "public transport". Towards a Sustainable Transport System, published by the Department for Transport last week, is starting a consultation process, but what is interesting is that it offers a set of written goals.

The logic has never been clearer. If the public transport sector does not respond positively and with imagination, then we will only have ourselves to blame!

The Government has proposed five goals, against which future projects will be assessed. First is "to maximise the competitiveness and productivity of the economy". The Eddington Transport Study, clearly links sustained economic growth with beating transport congestion. The message was that we already have a substantial infrastructure network, but we need to unblock it.

Government goal number two is "to address climate change by cutting CO2". The report points out that 89% of the UK's domestic transport emissions come from cars, vans and lorries and that the forthcoming Climate Change Bill will seek a 26% to 32% cut in UK domestic CO2
emissions by 2020.

Note that the Government also wants to ensure that CO2 from the predicted growth in air travel is offset by reductions elsewhere in the economy. I do not need to point out the long lead-time for typical transport projects. All this starts to look like a very pressing challenge: and one that acknowledges the need for a major shift from private to public transport.

Government goal three is "to improve public safety, security and health".

We know that public transport, in terms of accident risk, is far safer than private transport.

Then, to complete the set, goals four and five are "to improve quality of life" and "to promote greater equality of opportunity".

So, in effect, it seems as though the government has offered a clear challenge to the public transport industry to find solutions and to
innovate. It even states that after 2013-14 there is "considerable financial headroom", which is code for unallocated funds.

It is great to see the report hint at support for a new rail link from London to Birmingham, but now we have an opportunity that is not just about high-speed rail. In a sense, it is even bigger than that. It is about being creative, using new technology and finding appropriate solutions that meet these goals.

What the French have done so successfully since the first TGV line in 1981 is to nurture an industry that truly responds to their national transport needs.

Their geography and population density meant that a high-speed network became their flagship.

We have the challenge of finding a new national equivalent.

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