Railways 'are saving Britain £3bn a year'

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The Independent Online

Britain's rail network provides environmental and safety benefits worth £3bn a year, claims a new study. The railways help to reduce both road congestion and the number of car crash victims.

Britain's rail network provides environmental and safety benefits worth £3bn a year, claims a new study. The railways help to reduce both road congestion and the number of car crash victims.

While most train passengers curse slow trains that never run on time, the study, published tomorrow, will for the first time quantify huge, hidden advantages. The benefits even stretch to non-railway users who avoid Britain's ageing, decrepit rail network like the plague.

The report, entitled The Case for Rail, says passenger services are worth £1.9bn in social benefits and freight trains a further £1bn. Produced by the transport consultants Steer Davies Gleave, it estimates the rail industry directly provides 130,000 jobs, with another 800,000 employed in dependent businesses.

The Government's 10-year transport plan has put aside £60bn for investment in railways, but the new study will fuel demands for that figure to be increased substantially. Rail travel, argue campaigners, is more than just a means of getting from A to B. It is also of fundamental economic importance.

"This report shows that the railways are often the key to economic growth and an enhanced quality of life," said Stephen Joseph, director of Transport 2000, the lobbying group that commissioned the study. "For too long rail has been the poor relation, considered to lack the importance of road transport and the glamour of air. It is time to realise that rail is fundamentally good for us."

The Association of Train Operating Companies welcomed the report. "The industry has always known that it has a much more important role than carrying passengers and freight around the UK," said the Atoc chairman Christopher Garnett. "This report finally puts a robust numerical value to the importance of rail in building our economy, protecting the environment and encouraging social interaction."

The debate over the future of Britain's railways has intensified in recent years after train crashes at Paddington, Hatfield and Potters Bar and the collapse of Railtrack, highlighting a crumbling infra-structure and the need for huge investment.

Earlier this year, the Institute of Directors in its own report called for the closure of large stretches of the country's railways, saying that the only way to make the struggling network viable was to shrink it.

Ruth Lea, head of the policy unit at the institute, said: "There's no reason why you can't have a transport system driven by profit – look at the airlines ... Some of these lines are incredibly expensive, with incredible subsidies. It would be cheaper just to use road transport."

The Case for Rail takes a sideswipe at the Institute of Directors, claiming that its findings run "against assertions made by some analysts and academics".

"The Institute of Directors asserted that the railways are marginal to the economy, to transport and to tourism, are used mainly by the well-off and that spending on them is therefore poor value for public money," says the report.

"By contrast this study ... suggests that many of the railway network's current and potential roles are not widely recognised or valued and are not currently included or recognised in the plans and strategies produced by central government."

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