New railways not a panacea26 Mar 2009

The RAC Foundation has warned the Department for Transport that focusing too closely on building new railways ignores the economic disadvantages of doing so, when compared to new road building.

Rail Minister Lord Adonis has reaffirmed his commitment to High Speed 2 – a railway linking London with the West midlands, and possibly Scotland – and argued that building new track rather than upgrading existing lines could actually be less disruptive to the public and better value for money.

But the Foundation warns that if getting more bangs for the taxpayer’s buck is the objective then there should be a lot more road building.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said,
“When it comes to solving the nation’s transport challenges the RAC Foundation recognises the importance of a mixed approach.”

“However building brand new railways should not be seen as a panacea.”

“Just this week the Department for Transport minister Paul Clark acknowledged the cost per mile of the Channel Tunnel high-speed link was £85.3 million. At the same time he said a new mile of motorway can cost £21.4 million. To bring these two figures in line, there will have to be huge efficiency savings in rail building and there is no guarantee this can be achieved.”

“Even if the Government goes ahead with High Speed 2, history shows the taxpayer’s liability doesn’t stop at construction. While motorists contribute a net 4p per mile to the Treasury, train passengers are subsidised to a tune of 21p for every mile they travel.”

“The fact is that an extra mile of new motorway will deliver a much better rate of return than an extra mile of new railway track. The huge amount of money saved could then be used to help tackle global warming.”

“Road building alone is not the answer to our economic and environmental problems, but nor is building railways.”