Tom Haines-Doran
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Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
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This chapter discusses the prospects for fixing Britain’s rail system. It begins by noting that current elite thinking on reforms has nothing to say about what the purpose of the railways is in early to mid-twenty-first-century Britain. It is only with a clear idea of that in mind that we can possibly understand what the most appropriate levels and systems of funding and management should be. The chapter argues that, in order to maintain relevance, the railways will have to play their part in averting climate catastrophe, while also reducing social inequalities, in a ‘just transition’. This can work only if rail is seen as dependent on and part of a wider transport system that needs to decarbonise, and serves the needs of the economy in which it functions. That can only be achieved by a new public body that is responsible for coordinating a just transition across transport modes and sectors – a National Climate Service. Transport decarbonisation means a mixture of demand reduction, ‘modal shift’ and the closing down of transport systems that are impossible to decarbonise. The rail system will need to step in to replace journeys made by the most polluting modes. The railways must be fully electrified and must expand to meet demand (although expansion is limited by the ‘embodied carbon’ of construction). They should be made much cheaper to use. These changes are unlikely without big social movements, which are needed to wrest political power from the privatising policy elite which broke the railways in the first place.

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How to fix Britain’s broken railways

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