How Good Are Our Railways?
SMITH R A, Advanced Railway Research Centre, University of Sheffield, UK
In order to answer the question "How good are our railways?", it is necessary to compare our performance, preferably with reliable quantitative data, with that of other systems. The purpose of such comparisons is to provide targets of ambition in order to
In order to answer the question "How good are our railways?", it is necessary to compare our performance, preferably with reliable quantitative data, with that of other systems. The purpose of such comparisons is to provide targets of ambition in order to improve performance. It is easy to be accused of negativity in such an approach, but it is one of the objectives of an organisation such as the Advanced Railway Research Centre to act as a ginger group for railways and to raise horizons above pressing and immediate problems of delivery, to more strategic longer term goals.
This approach is not a criticism of the great achievements of the railway engineers and managers of the past - great things have been done; after all, Britain was the birthplace of railways and many pioneering events have happened within our shores. Nevertheless, even a superficial knowledge of recent railway history, is sufficient to reveal that events have moved on and it can be no longer.,claimed that Britain is at the cutting edge of railway tectmology and performance. Sir Alastair Morton, recently appointed Chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, has been quoted as saying that he has found 'a battered, historically under-fimded, previously non-growth system, now in the painful process of transferring itself into a modemised growth oriented, larger and better system'. Indeed, in the eyes of many of our overseas colleagues, we have managed to produce remarkable results with meagre fimding - we are seen as world experts in producing a reasonable service on a shoestring and are often asked for advice on how it can be done. This should not, however, prevent us from looking further afield and seeing what we might want to achieve if we are released from our bunkers. In this sense, it is hoped that this contribution will be viewed as a positive attempt to stimulated vision.
Association for European Transport