The government’s quest for a higher productivity economy needs to stop at the railway and the roads budget. Getting around the country is difficult, with too much traffic congestion and delay, and with too few rail seats and fast trains on commuter lines at busy times of day. We have too little road space for vehicles, and too little use is made of the substantial track space we do have available for the railway.
Tackling the trains requires three main changes. The first is new signalling on board each train, so a train can go closer to the train ahead safely, knowing the position and speed of the trains on the line. Currently we only get around 27 trains an hour on UK track, with less on some mixed railways. It should be possible to get that up to 40 with more precise signalling. The second change reinforces this. Let’s have lighter trains with better braking and faster acceleration, to take advantage of new signal types and to use the track more effectively. The third thing we need is more bypass capacity at places along the main tracks, to allow mixing slower and faster trains more readily, with easier overtaking.
These methods of increasing capacity and improving speed and efficiency will be considerably cheaper than building complete new track, or electrifying existing track.
Road capacity also needs increasing to cut congestion and improve safety. Congestion and accidents occur most frequently at poorly designed junctions. The government is producing a pinch points fund which could help pay for improvements on main highways that could tackle these twin problems. Roundabouts often flow better than light controlled junctions. Light controlled junctions flow better if there is a segregated right turning lane. Junctions are safer if there are other ways for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the road without using the main vehicle carriageway, which can also allow faster crossing times for pedestrians and cyclists without the need to wait for a change of lights.
Many places need new bridges to get traffic across railway lines and rivers. Level crossings are dangerous and need to be replaced by highway bridges or underpasses. The congestion in many towns and cities can be traced to a mixture of junctions and a lack of ways of getting over the railway or river.
Being stuck in traffic jams is wasting hours of time for delivery drivers, service providers who travel to their customer homes, builders getting themselves and materials to site and office workers trying to get to their office. The UK will be much more productive when we do some serious jam busting, and put in enough seats on busy rail lines.