Time to sell all the benefits

In 1979, British Rail launched an advertising campaign in the national press. The eight advertisements covered a varied range of topics, from the delights of train catering to holiday travel and the benefits of the then new Speedlink wagonload freight service.

Of the eight, two, including the one reproduced opposite, were promoting a rolling programme of main line electrification. While, four decades on, we may smile at the overly pessimistic view of oil reserves, there is an ironic parallel. Today’s call for railway electrification is being driven by the results of our dependence on the ‘black gold’.

And yet, despite rail’s unambiguous role in achieving carbon net zero, we cannot imagine today’s railway running a national media campaign promoting electrification. Absent the Railway Industry Association and the Rail Freight Group, who would back such an uncompromising message?

Network Rail is an agency of government and would not step out of line with government policy, even if it could. As for the Rail Delivery Group, its train-operating members are at loggerheads with the Department for Transport over their future role – if any. Simultaneously, they are on financial life support to the tune of £700 million a month as demand remains muted.

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