Transport off the agenda, again

Transport affects virtually everyone every day yet never figures in elections. Even the amazingly contentious issue of rail privatisation barely featured in the 1992 election, despite the fact that it did not take a Cassandra to realise that it would cause the biggest upheaval in the railways since 1948.
In the run up to previous elections, I have often been rung by TV companies saying would I be on hand to comment should any big transport issue arise. I always say ‘sure’, knowing the phone will never ring. And it never does.
This time it has even gone quiet on transport before the election. Partly, that is because both Ruth Kelly and her counterpart, Theresa Villiers, are relatively new. Both, so far, seem to be speaking from their scripts, with very little attempt to formulate any new ideas or policy. Road charging, for example, seems to have disappeared off the agenda.
There are ideas popping up from the fringes, like the commissions set up by David Cameron. But it is noticeable that the ideas in them are being knocked down almost as soon as they are published. At a Conservative conference fringe, for example, I asked Villiers whether she endorsed John Redwood’s idea of boosting rail capacity by 50 per cent. We would like to increase rail capacity, she said guardedly, ‘but I would not like to pin myself down to a particular figure’.
Redwood, by the way, is Upminster, one stop beyond Barking. I had a brief chat with him over his ideas and he seems obsessed with the idea of lighter trains which, for some reason, he thinks these would greatly increase capacity. He also wants to see rubber tyred trains, not aware that the whole point of metal on metal is that there is far less friction and therefore less use of fuel, and he also talked about seat belts on trains, unaware that the idea has just been rejected after a comprehensive
When challenged, he just says that he is thinking the big ideas and that its up to other people to work out the detail. John Gummer, in his quality of life report, has done the opposite, producing over 500 pages which of course no one will ever fully read. No wonder the Tories have us much chance of winning an election this autumn as I have on recouping a substantial sum I have placed on QPR this season, given they are the only team of all 92 in the league not to have won a single game yet.

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