Sometimes one must admit to ones weaknesses. Mine is traveling on trains. I am not an anorak about it; I just rather enjoy being chauffeur driven through the countryside, away from the hell that is sitting in a little tin box with hundreds of others in their little tin boxes.
As a result I have been watching the documentaries on the building of Crossrail with a degree of obsessive interest. The scale of governmental imagination, public finance and technical capability is quite breathtaking. Perhaps the leading lights of the northern cities, with their proposals for massive public investment in transport infrastructure, have been similarly inspired. Will Elizabeth’s next major job be to bore under the Pennines?
My interest in Crossrail dates back to the early days of the South East England Regional Assembly and its work with the Mayor of London to get government commitment to the project. Along with the Hastings Bypass and the Hindhead tunnel these were some of SEERA’s earliest skirmishes with major transport projects. However, the origins of the Crossrail concept date back even further, prior even to the 1985 Transport Act. This was the Act that deregulated bus services and left rural areas with whatever could be conjured up from the limited profits that the private sector could make coupled with whatever subsidy the Local Transport Authority (LTA) aka County Council was willing to scrape together.
LTAs were given a responsibility for ensuring socially essential public transport continued to be available when the market failed. For thirty years they have stuck their finger in that particular dam. But now tighter and tighter budgets have created a change. Rural LTAs are taking the view that their responsibility is just to help people get to essential public services; a new definition of socially essential transport.
I suspect the people of the London conurbation, or the good burghers of the northern cities for that matter, would be astounded if Government suggested that public investment in their transport infrastructure should only be provided to help get people to hospital, school or the Job Centre. Where does Crossrail run? Heathrow, the West End, The City and to Canary Wharf. How much are we spending on it?
Time for a little more governmental imagination and finance when it comes to rural transport. Perhaps time for another look at the 1985 Act and its impact on rural areas.
The opinions expressed here are my own and not AirS policy, however they are informed by AirS work with rural communities