When Coronavirus forced us all to stay in our homes and the world ground to a halt in March 2020, like so many of us, I watched with fascination as nature appeared to heal itself before our eyes. Cars stayed on their drives and train timetables were reduced down to the bare minimum, as offices closed and jobs were carried out from home.
During these dark times, miraculous improvements in air quality and images of marine life returning to long-empty waters felt like one of the only positive news stories to keep us going. In fact, it was easy to wonder – do we really need to return polluting cars, buses and trains to our network?
As life begins to return to normal however, it’s clear to me that the key to protecting our environment actually lies in increasing public transport capacity and making electric vehicles more accessible. In light of this, I was hopeful to read the Government’s recent Transport Decarbonisation Strategy as it’s now clear that reaching net zero carbon emissions from transport just got serious. With the target set at 2050, we are ready to rise to the challenge in the Midlands.
From road to rail, the Government must now work closely with industry and the private sector to ensure that these exciting sustainable transport changes become a reality. We welcome the changes outlined in this report and at Midlands Connect will continue to focus on a strategy to decarbonise transport at a regional level.
Government’s support for rail electrification is welcome, as electrifying the Midland Mainline, which runs trains between Sheffield and London via Nottingham and Leicester, is long overdue. Electrification means the end of diesel journeys, which will be replaced by clean, decarbonised rail with improved performance and lower running costs. It is vital that we next see a firm commitment to the electrification of the Midland Mainline, when the long awaited Integrated Rail Plan is published later this year.
Rail electrification doesn’t just mean better journeys – it means better and more well paid jobs too. Indeed Government predicts that up to 3,000 highly specialised jobs in Overhead Line Electrification could be created. Rail electrification work in England has been inconsistent until now, making it difficult to retain skills and long-term quality jobs but with promises now made to establish a rolling programme of electrification, employment opportunities look bright for the Midlands.
The Midlands is home to the largest cluster of rail supply chain businesses on the Continent, as well as major rail innovation programmes like the newly opened ‘Centre of Excellence for Digital Systems’ in Birmingham or the Melton Rail Innovation and Development Centre. Rail electrification would strengthen industry’s relationship with these organisations, bringing economic regeneration to the wider area, as the materials required would be manufactured locally.
Because of its central location, the Midlands holds more than a third of the country’s warehouse space and accounts for 40% of the region’s GVA. Major freight operations take place in the Midlands and this was recently strengthened by Government’s investment in the East Midlands Freeport. It’s vital that we act now to ensure road and rail freight is equipped with zero carbon alternative fuels and electric vehicle charging – Midlands Connect recommends our region leads on equipping electric as well as Hydrogen cars and HGVs of the future with a cutting edge vehicle charging network.
To achieve net zero carbon emissions from all modes of transport by 2050, it’s fundamental that Government gives the green light to these vital infrastructure improvements in the Midlands without delay. I look forward to the benefits these changes will have for our region and our environment for years to come.
Maria wrote about The Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Strategy, which is available to view here.
About the Author
This post was written by Maria Machancoses. Chief Executive of Midlands Connect, www.midlandsconnect.uk