BLOG: Pandemic must not stop rail progress in its tracks

July 6th 2020

By virtue of its location at the core of the country's rail network, spanning six of its most important main lines, the Heartland is perfectly positioned to drive forward a railway resurgence as the means of delivering a green recovery.

It's an area of national importance for the railway, with our nationally important cities and towns drawing labour from external economies and the region itself acting as a gateway for the rest of the UK.

This is to say that investment in the Heartland's railway infrastructure that mirrors the scale of vision first conceived for East West Rail would kick-start economic recovery; bringing benefits that extend far beyond our contiguous borders in a way that is mindful of climate change obligations.

Our shared awareness of this region's environmental imperative has consequently shaped our ambitions for the transport system; a paradigm shift that now sees decarbonisation outcomes placed on equal footing as capacity and connectivity requirements for our rail network.

For a few, current underuse of the public transport network as a result of social distancing measures has casted doubt on the future of public transport and placed into question whether rail is the right mechanism to achieve these benefits.

But this view is mistaken. Adopting this logic or pausing to think about it for too long will slow down the progress we have made in making rail an attractive travel option. At worst, it risks us repeating historical decisions we continue to reverse.

Like many others, I argue that as with most good come-back stories, the dip in journeys by rail will, in time, be met by even greater demand for capacity.

And rightly so, as rail is unique in the way it provides the only tried and tested way of connecting large volumes of people to key urban centres in a zero-carbon manner, to the benefit of UK Plc.

This desire to bring our burgeoning economic centres closer together whist supporting a more sustainable approach to planned development by fast, reliable rail services has seen a collaborative partnership develop with Network Rail and wider industry.

Such was the need to act on the significance of these drivers, the Passenger Rail Study marks an important first step in setting out the need for rail to play a more significant role in our transport system.

The study brings together long term planning work with political aspirations. It sets out of the need for change and challenges conventional wisdom by using the East West Mainline as the over-riding opportunity from which new axes of connectivity must emerge if this region is to reach its economic, social and environmental potential.

Through the policy framework underpinning the strategy, the next phase of work will reimagine the economic benefits that can be achieved when taking forward a series of improved connectivity measures that harness the benefits of East West Rail - creating a more connected region for the benefits of our communities and businesses alike.

Antony Swift is a Project Lead at England's Economic Heartland