Transport – Onto the Right Track


New Transport Secretary of State, Philip Hammond, and his deputy, Theresa Villiers – undeservedly omitted from the Cabinet – have many transport issues to address. Which are the priorities?

First on aviation; the decision to scrap BA’s third runway project at Heathrow is sensible. However, the proposed expansions of both Gatwick and Stansted should continue. But the BA/Heathrow problems will not disappear. BA has three chronic problems – aggressive competition, especially in Europe from Ryanair and Easyjet, seemingly intractable union differences and the accursed c£3 billion pension deficit. Every effort must be made to turn round BA. The eventual aim should be a highly competitive, non-union airline, preferably without any pension schemes, and with legacy liabilities being transferred elsewhere. As for Heathrow, the Department should seriously consider how it can auction off landing slots on a similar basis to the mobile spectrum.

On the trains, sorting out Network Rail – with a governance body more reminiscent of the hapless Football Association – is a priority. Its soaring net debt - £23 billion – should be cut. Train franchises require attention. Longer, larger franchises are preferable. Prescribing an integrated franchise, similar to the Isle of Wight model, should be tried as a pre-requisite to the eventual integration of the network.

On the underground, close liaison is needed with TfL to ensure that the massive capex overruns of the past do not recur. Furthermore, the very expensive Crossrail project should be deferred until public borrowing falls.

Action on the roads is less urgent, but the priority should be plugging bottlenecks and filling potholes – and forgetting yet more bus market investigations.

Improving the UK’s docks is important. Hence, the controversial Dibden Bay project should be reviewed, whilst the larger Trust Ports should be modernized – and preferably privatized.

No shortage of issues?