Sunday, 27 September 2009

Andrew Adonis on High Speed Trains

I am at Labour Party Conference in Brighton. With High Speed 1 now excitingly having started from Ramsgate I went along to the joint meeting from the rail unions ASLEF and TSSA on A High Speed Rail Policy to a Low Carbon Future. The main speaker was Lord Andrew Adonis the Secretary of State for Transport.

He arrived early for the meeting and discussed developments with a number of people. I had a chat with him and he was delighted that High Speed 1 has now started the trial service from Thanet and pleased the full service will commence with the Hitachi trains in December. What he wants is for there to be more High Speed rail links across the country. It is wonderful that East Kent now leads where the rest of the country will follow with a 21st century popular service for the future.

When he spoke from the platform he gave an exhilirating optimistic exposition of how he sees high speed rail leading economic development and environmental transport. Switching effortlessly between domestic and international examples his passion for how rail now can be as leading a part of the economy now, as it was when the Victorians were building new lines.

He talked about how rail could be popularised further noting how much demand for rail had increased. Talking about the distances between major conurbations in Britain he outlined how much better a fit rail was than short flights, or long drives in a car.

He spoke of how other countries like France have moved ahead of Britain and how Britain needs to match or better their network. Pointing out that countries round the world like China were recognising the importance of rail infrastructure and investing now, he noted how America was being left behind.

The role of trade unions in promoting environmentalism is often overlooked. ASLEF have been campaigning for many years to have the two thirds of the UK's rail track that have diesel services electrified. On the other hand trainspotters remain mostly male and this fringe meeting had a higher proportion of men than most meetings.

Gerry Doherty General Secretary of the Transport Salaried Staff Association wanted to see the High Speed 2 service to the north of England and Scotland greeted with the enthusiasm that Spain was developing its new services. He warned though that it would not solve congestion quickly and that the principle of massive investment in rail needed to become the political norm.

Bob Rixham the National Rail Officer for Unite talked about building a wider coalition of support for rail expansion. Like Gerry he was enthused by Andrew Adonis' commitment but wanted a wider political commitment.

Tosh McDonald from ASLEF the train drivers union talked of Andrew Adonis as a breath of carbon neutral fresh air. Rarely is a government minister greeted with such unconditional acclamation from fellow speakers. He condemned the Conservative proposals to cut back rail investment in Crossrail across central London and that they would only have High Speed service to Leeds when the country needed a service that went further north.

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