Filed under: Environment, Uncategorized | Tags: Forum for the Future, Low Carbon, Network Rail, Railway, Trains, Transport
Our report for Network Rail on the future of the railway was published last week – download it here. We worked with Forum for the Future, and I wrote a guest post for them on this – here it is.
Today’s Railway – the fastest growing railway in Europe.
Tomorrow’s Railway – part of a successful low-carbon economy?
The future of the Britain’s railway received a shot in the arm this week with the government’s announcement of £4.2 billion of extra investment. It’s a welcome step towards a railway fit for a low-carbon knowledge economy – but the national debate about the railway remains caught up in day-to-day issues: more seats, cleaner toilets, cheaper tickets, more reliability, more frequent services. Oh, and free WiFi.
All of these are important issues – but within the noise, we’ve lost sight of a bigger discussion: what is the purpose of the railway in the first place? What’s it for? What role does it play in national life, in our economy, in our national identity?
Network Rail had asked Blaise Projects (part of the Brunswick Group) to put together a programme to understand what the public really think about the role of the railway in the future. We turned to Forum For The Future to help us create a set of Future Scenarios – three distinct visions of tomorrow’s railway, and the role it might play in our national life.
The Future Scenarios were designed to stimulate debate about the purpose and vision of the railway. They’re not predictions, but representations of possible future pathways. They were created from a series of expert interviews, analysis and workshops. Here is a snapshot of each, based in the year 2025:
Scenario 1: City Hubs
The UK is more prosperous, with new types of industry and jobs. London is no longer the sole centre of business – several vibrant “city hubs” have sprung up across the country. There’s a less clear cut North-South divide. People can start businesses and find desirable places to live right across the country.
Scenario 2: Local Communities
The UK has stabilised as a low-growth economy. People have adapted to new ways of living and working. Many have moved out of urban areas – they work from home to save money and capitalise on local business opportunities.
Scenario 3: London – Global Hub
Economic growth has been modest. Prosperity is focused on London. As a result, more people are moving to the South East – as it’s the place to be successful. London grows as a global hub for business and culture but the economic divide has grown, creating a two-tier Britain.
We took these Future Scenarios into a national series of workshops – ten in total, right across the country, and including people from all walks of life, from chefs to nurses, plumbers to teachers. Over 300 people took part in these workshops, and the results were published last week in a report called Our Railway’s Future.
The scenarios helped throw the debate into the future, getting us past the day-to-day, transactional issues. In fact, we were all surprised by how engaged people were with the discussion about the future of the railway: people think the railways really matter, and that the industry needs to be more ambitious about the future. Here’s how the outgoing chairman of Network Rail, Rick Haythornthwait, described the outcome:
“The public have shown a great affection for their railway and strongly recognised its economic and social importance. This is a moment to grasp as we plan our railway for the next decade… the people want a strong, healthy, well financed railway that can deliver for today and for decades to come.”
This report shows why we should be ambitious for the railway: it plays an important social, economic and environmental role. As Forum’s founder Jonathan Porritt says in a piece he wrote for the report, “rail is the backbone of a low-carbon transport system”. This report shows that we can have a much more constructive national debate when we lift our eyes above the here-and-now, and fix our sights on the future.
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