When I heard that news I started thinking about what advice I would give (fantasising that I might ever be asked).
I started coming up with a long list of sensible things like: ending the wheel/rail split, liberating fares, tearing up the Transatlantic air treaties, privatising the road network etc.
But then it occurred to me that what I am doing here is suggesting ways of making the world a better place. That is not necessarily what politicians want. What politicians want is to keep their jobs, be popular and climb the greasy pole. In that case what you really want to be doing, as Ernest Benn said is to be: “...looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy”
Fortunately, for Justine, most of the non-existent troubles already have plenty of wrong remedies. Hence, we have CrossRail and HST2 and fare control. About the only good solution is the proposal to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph. That is likely to be hugely popular even if (much to my annoyance) it comes from the EU. Get your paws all over that one, Justine.
“But what about the economic crisis?”, I hear you say. That’s the wonderful thing. The Secretary of State can almost completely ignore it. Sure, one day it will happen and it will happen to the Department of Transport good and hard. HST will be cancelled, CrossRail will be abandoned, fares will go up. It may even be so bad that the government sells the motorways to get it through the week. But when that happens it becomes oh-so easy for a Secretary of State for Transport to say: “Oh dear, unexpected economic conditions, no money, nothing I can do etc, etc.”
So, just from a political standpoint (putting prosperity, wealth generation and morality to one side for the time being) I see no reason why Justine Greening shouldn’t promise the earth.
What has she got to lose?
Mario Polèse has a piece about Why Big Cities matter More than Ever in, appropriately enough, City Journal.
He makes many worthwhile points. My favourite one (i.e. I already strongly agree) is that the rise of electronic communication at a distance intensifies (rather than reduces) the demand for face-to-face contact, and hence for transport. Not all information can be transmitted over wires or through the ether. That much can increases the value of face-to-face meetings (like this one for instance), because quality face-to-face teams can now influence and trade with the entire world.
What about the argument that falling communications costs actually undermine urban concentration? For example, didn’t the existence of e-mail encourage Silicon Valley companies to outsource computer programming to Bangalore, India? The truth is that this shift did foster urban concentration - in Bangalore.
As for falling physical transport costs causing physical dispersion, well, yes and no. Consider the live theatre business. Theatrical endeavour clusters in one spot (like Broadway or the West End of London), for all the usual reasons that businesses cluster (economies of scale - big pools of core professional talent - variety of ancillary professional talent - inside info - face-to-face contact (see above)), but good transport enables more punters to come to town, to witness these performances. Transport enables a dispersed population all to benefit from the same services, which it thus makes more sense to be concentrated in the big city.
Transport, in other words, isn’t going anywhere.
Some while back I started accumulating links to interesting transport things, concerning events during the recent spell of Transport Blog outage, by googling “transport” and ignoring everything boring, which is a hell of a lot. (Mostly politicians moaning about how they aren’t being allowed or should be allowed to waste public money on transport crap of various sorts.)
But then I got ill and forgot about this. Today, just to clear my decks, I give you this file of links. There aren’t actually that many, but for what they are worth, click and enjoy:
Inside the world’s biggest private jet.
Germany gets across the channel. It’s taken seventy years for the big arrows at the beginning of Dad’s Army to get here, but now they are about to.
Video of train spotter failing to spot the train. It’s behind you.
Buy more salt. I.e. for the roads this winter.
And finally, what with Michael’s recent writings here on the subject, a couple of motorcycle links: Motorcycles - miracle or menace?, and The tireless motorcycle museum curator. Tireless. Get it? Oh never mind.
See also this excellent Vietnam motorbike picture.
Patrick: please feel free to re-edit the categorisations below.
LATER: I also agree with the commenter who reckons that this bit of road building video is BRILJANT!!!
The other day there was a fare strike in the West Country. The issue seems to be the withdrawal of trains which has compounded the existing overcrowding caused by (you guessed it) fare control, leading to trains being so overcrowded that they can’t be boarded.
Strange isn’t it? You don’t seem to get these problems with coaches or aircraft. Now, I am not quite sure why it is. I think it is to do with the relatively small number of trainsets coupled with incompatibility problems. But it doesn’t really matter what the reasons are. The point is that it is just another black mark against not the rail industry but rail as an industry.
There’s a widespread belief that rail should be competing against road and air on a universal basis. That trains should climb every mountain, ford every stream. A lot of this is down to the belief that clean trains are in an unfair fight with dirty cars and planes. Now, if pollution costs were fully included in the price of every journey, things might be different but I doubt if they would be that different. And, anyway, trains pollute too.
The long and the short of it is that in just too many areas due to flexibility, reliability and cost, rail simply can’t compete - and so, shouldn’t. In the market for journeys ending or beginning in city centres, rail has a huge advantage and it is this market it should stick to.
As it happens I was travelling down on first Great Western only today - First Class! Not bad. In need of attention, but as I understand it, a refurb is planned. Not as good as Virgin.