Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

It’s still the infrastructure, stupid

Posted in America, Commuter, Great Britain, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 18 December 2009

New Jersey Transit has announced the award of a $583m contract for the first section of its new Trans-Hudson tunnel, that will run between northern New Jersey and midtown Manhattan, terminating at new platforms at Penn Station. This is part of a project that will total close to $9 billion to improve the capacity of NJT’s commuter lines into New York City, and is tied together with the East Side Access project. Together, the Mass Transit Tunnel project and East Side Access will cost upwards of $14.5 billion, all of it public investment from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New Jersey Transit. As I’ve said before, investment in this kind of public infrastructure is what is needed in a recession. Of course, it helps if the country isn’t mortgaged up to the neck. This is why, in spite of fine words, we should all remain sceptical about the future of the major rail infrastructure projects that are announced. Already, the Scottish Government has cancelled the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, despite it being shown that major airports need rail connections of some kind to the city that they serve, and basically said that the Edinburgh tram network currently under construction would receive no more money. And they are just small local projects. With the United Kingdom in such a financial mess, one would have to seriously question whether the government, of whatever colour, will be able to pay for the construction of High Speed 2 on its estimated timescale, while even Crossrail, which has already started construction, has only received tenuous support – the Tories have not given a cast iron guarantee that it will be finshed should they return to government. And with an £800 billion debt to service, and crippling calls on the public purse from other areas, it does make you wonder which parts will be cut. And this sort of project, though it is what is really needed, is a soft target, because no governing party would dare even whisper in private “we will cut funding to health and social security”. Because that, unfortunately, is electoral suicide. And so real, genuine public investment in building things and making the country work better suffers.

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