At a time when terrible global events are dominating all our thoughts it is difficult to concentrate on matters nearer home. Nevertheless, we need to keep some of our attention on our own issues, and the ever-important matter of rail policy is always on the agenda.
The conference organised by HS1, the high-speed rail company, took an interesting perspective on how to encourage more people to use the railway. The environmental benefits of persuading people to switch from cars and lorries to rail are often underestimated. If 4.9 million more passengers used high-speed rail every year, this would prevent 450,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
The Government recognises this green effect in its own Transport Decarbonisation Plan, but the interesting question is how much this will shift people’s actual behaviour when it comes to choosing how to travel. My own guess is that while for some it will vital, for most it will be a side benefit.
What they want is a safe, affordable and reliably quick journey. We saw this in Ashford when the figure that was drummed into everyone was that the town was now 38 minutes from Central London. That became the key selling point and has remained so.
The HS1 Workshop did throw up a number of interesting conversations about what passengers want. They look at the convenience of the whole journey, so if you want to make it properly green they need safe cycling routes and a secure place to leave the bike at the station. If they are taking the train because they want to work on the way to the office they need reliable wi-fi. The price needs to competitive as well.
There are hurdles to overcome. At the moment the capacity of Kent’s high-speed line is only 50% used. So there is a huge opportunity to fill up the other half and help our environment at the same time.