The UK Transport Minister, Geoff Hoon, confirmed the government plans to inject an extra £1 billion into major transport projects next year. According to the Department for Transport (DfT) statement, the investment is being made, “In order to stimulate the economy by accelerating Government plans to cut congestion and significantly increase rail capacity.”
This extra £1 billion, to be spent on road and rail schemes, is in addition to the overall £10 billion for 2009-2014 already pledged by the transport minister in July 2007 to increase rail capacity. Other major long-term rail projects include the massive London Crossrail scheme, the £5.5 billion Thameslink program and an additional £600 million to tackle congestion.
Major transport schemes highlighted in this most recent DfT statement, include the enhancement of rail freight routes through London. This includes £54 million just for the North London route improvement. Other monies already allocated in Oct. 2007 to rail freight projects included TIF (Transport Innovation Fund) monies (£132.5m) for Peterborough to Nuneaton (£80m) and Southampton to West Midlands (£43m) rail gauge enhancement to cope with modern taller containers on standard-height rail wagons.
While this is more welcome news for southern transport projects, which will continue to receive the lion’s share of new rail funds, there is a rapidly growing consensus in the rest of the country that further expenditure in southern UK infrastructure is a failed model. It makes no provisions for tackling the identified problems of the UK’s north-south economic performance divide.
“The UK Government needs to invest in the future and not the past,” stated Martyn Pellew, Group Development Director for PD Ports. “This latest injection of cash for road and rail projects into the already congested south will do very little to improve anything, it’s just a perpetuation of pre-existing problems. Over three-years ago the Government’s Northern Way initiative identified a £32 billion shortfall in the economic performance of the North of England. If the UK Government really wants to help our economy in this financial crisis and also meet the long term environmental targets that have been laid out in the recent Climate Change, Energy and Planning Bills, then the UK Government clearly needs a new direction for a sustainable future” added Pellew. “Despite the obvious benefits of moving freight by rail, so far there is still considerable misdirection in the way the UK Government treats and funds its rail network.”
As the recent DfT news indicates, a significant amount of funding has gone into rail access to the country’s southern ports for increased freight shipment particularly to cope with the newer one-foot-higher containers bringing more and more product to UK consumers from the Far East, but as Pellew argues, “This latest investment will only continue the trend for shipping lines to add increasing cargo volumes on to the overcrowded southern UK infrastructure. It’s an investment that will work against itself.”