Rooting for Rail

 

With Brexit, Syria, the US presidential election and enough drama and controversy to fill the daily broadsheets twice over, you’d be excused if you thought there was no news about transport worth mentioning. But announcements have been made, the policies Teresa May’s Government plans to pursue are approaching the starting line, and rail appears to hold poll position among transport sectors.

Earlier this month, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling confirmed the Government’s commitment to High Speed 2. He also announced three new funds to be allocated to local authorities along the route worth a total of £70 million. This money will support community, environmental, economic and road safety outcomes.

Such outcomes form the basis of the challenge for transport planners. How do we make rail infrastructure work for those who live along the route? It is difficult to mitigate impacts where there is just track in the vicinity, but there are the stations to consider too. Not only as milestones in the prestige, high speed race, but also on local lines.

Another announcement, probably ignored in the run up to the August bank holiday was for £20 million to part-fund a second round of new local stations, following five that were funded in the first round. Then there’s the ongoing programme of station upgrades. From Birmingham and Reading to York and Weston-Super-Mare, billions are being spent by Network Rail and Train Operating Companies to bring stations to a new level of peak performance which can cope with the new scale of peak passenger traffic.

The expectations of regeneration, interchange and accessibility around these stations are high, with a lot of money riding on them. National planning policy is pushing for higher density housing around railway stations and ‘commuter hubs’, extending the transport planning challenge to new developments as well as existing communities. Meanwhile, although plenty of government agencies are getting involved, city devolution deals and rail route reorganisation means that it may be local governments and businesses who are having to back and perhaps even ride their own horse.

If rail projects are to cross the finish line posting respectable times, then it is our responsibility as transport planners to ensure that they achieve outcomes such as coherent surrounding communities, thriving economies and improved accessibility to jobs and services by sustainable modes of transport.

It is a timely topic and one that will be discussed by experts with knowledge of current policy, best practice and on-the-ground delivery at this year’s RTPI-TPS Transport Planning Network event on 21 November in Birmingham. Click here for more information and to register. Rail development is a runner worth rooting for.

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