High speed rail on track to increase social exclusion17 Feb 2010

High speed rail on track to increase social exclusion

Billions to be spent benefitting the few at the expense of the many

A new high speed rail line will cost the taxpayer billions of pounds, but benefit only a relatively small group of wealthy travellers.

And developing a link between London and Birmingham, and then beyond, will starve other much-needed transport schemes of cash.

That is the stark message Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, is delivering today [Wednesday] at the Great Transport Debate conference in London. Also speaking at the conference is Lord Adonis, the transport secretary.

Professor Glaister says, “Railways are generally used by the rich and a high speed line between London and Scotland is unlikely to be any exception.

“As a proportion of their disposable income, the wealthy spend most on train travel. But when it comes to car-owning households – rich or poor – they all shell out roughly the same in percentage terms.

“By diverting funding – for both capital and maintenance projects – away from the road network, there is the very real risk that the less-well off  will be hardest hit, as they are the ones who are least likely to travel by train and so will have to put up with increasing congestion and pothole-strewn highways.

“For most of the people, most of the time, the car is public transport, and government policy and spending needs to reflect this.

“It is absolutely correct that long-term thinking needs to be at the heart of transport planning to create future travel capacity; however this has to be based on the reality of people’s lives.

 “When over 90% of all passenger travel takes place on the roads it seems wrong that so much political attention is being focused on transport services for the elite, especially at a time when funds are so desperately needed to repair the roads damaged by the awful winter weather.”

It is not just road infrastructure which could be hit. Earlier this week the Transport Select Committee warned, “It is essential that investment in a high speed rail network does not detract from necessary medium term investment on the “classic” network.”


The RAC Foundation is a charity (No. 1002705) exploring the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and the use of motor vehicles. It campaigns for a fair deal for responsible road users.

Professor Glaister is speaking at the Great Transport Debate, organised by Transport Times, where he shares the bill with Lord Adonis. The presentation is available here on the website.

On Monday 15th February 2010 the Transport Select Committee published its report: Priorities for Investment in the Railways.

According to the RAC Foundation report Low-Income Motoring in Great Britain, the lowest 20% of car-owning households spent an average of 17% of disposable cash on buying and running a car in 2007.

Amongst the same income group, 57% (in both car owning and non-car owning households) use surface rail less than once a year.

The report also found that access to health facilities is twice as easy for people in households with cars.