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Integrating rail

Darren Shirley's picture
man on train platform

The railways span the length and breadth of the country, connecting our towns and cities and transporting people and goods. An efficient, fast and environmental mode of transport, the railway’s success however is dependent on it’s connections to other modes. Few journeys, of people or freight, start and finish with the railway. Passengers need to get to and from a station, and freight has to be transported between trains, that’s why rail’s multimodality is integral to its success, and why rail is a key mode in our country’s transport network.

Good modal interchanges are central to creating efficient, affordable, accessible and comprehensive transport networks. That much of the country lacks such systems is the result of disjointed and reductive transport planning and investment. The resulting over-reliance on cars is engendering negative social, economic and environmental ramifications. These consequences unfairly disadvantage those who do not have a car and lead to perverse spending decisions to address the resulting congestion. 

So why is it that our transport fails to deliver a fully integrated network? The reason for this is clear. Planning, operation and investment in individual transport modes is undertaken in isolation. This means much transport planning remains reductive. For example, if there is a budget for roads then the response to a congested road will be to add more road capacity. It will not generally be to identify the wider causes of the congestion nor contemplate the best transport solution to resolve it. A principal casualty of the current approach is interchanges. By definition, interchanges require a joined-up approach to transport. Despite some recent attempts at more creative planning, opportunities to link up road and rail infrastructure and services are routinely missed and often undervalued. 

Good interchanges can greatly influence the travel choices people make. Existing interchanges have developed for many reasons: to take advantage of co-located transport infrastructure, to make the most efficient use of available capacity or to support new retail and housing development.

One example of how a simple idea can help integrate rail services with other transport modes is the clock face schedule, or Taktfahrplan, a timetabling system that runs services at consistent intervals with the objective of making schedules simple to memorise and therefore more attractive to use. Clock face timetables can also be attractive to operators by making planning easier. Widely used in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, clock face schedules give the biggest benefits when they allow coordination across public transport modes. Generally organised around a hub and spoke system, transfer distances and waiting times between services can be minimised and journey-time based tickets employed. 

There are other examples of good practice; integration of public transport across the country is one of the prime beneficiaries of Cornwall’s devolution agreement for instance. The deal, agreed with central Government in 2015, gives the county greater ability to control its transport services and is worth £126 million. Improvements underway include: 

● Better integration of bus and rail services, with the main rail network becoming a series of hubs for onward travel by bus 
● Development of contactless multimodal ticketing across rail, bus and ferry services 
● A smartphone journey planner giving details of journey options.

Rail is a key element of our transport mix and to exploit its full potential we must ensure door to door journeys are not only possible, but are the easy option.

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