There has been a seismic shift in attitudes to rail transport in recent years — with both policy decision makers and the general public apparently embracing the idea of bringing back a more comprehensive rail network. And with good reason. The climate crisis presents a massive challenge to all of us. What does being ‘carbon neutral’ really mean? What changes to our current practices and lifestyles really need to change?
A re-think of transport networks and settlement patterns must surely be a key way of effecting the changes we need. The transport sector is presently one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas — accounting for a growing level of emissions. This is particularly due to the growth of aviation, but road transport is also a major problem. All aspects of air quality management are now a serious concern in most urban areas.
In February 2020 the Government announced that the sale of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars would be banned by 2035. But even if the auto industry can successfully shift to producing electric cars in that period, many of the key problems with our current reliance on private car ownership would not go away with electric cars. The issues of traffic congestion, the impacts of more and more road building and the high economic cost to most households of needing to run more than one vehicle, would all still be with us.
A multi-modal transport approach is required to meet our future challenges. Re-establishing a rail network between all of our main towns could help to cut-out many road journeys — for work, leisure, and tourism trips. And a lot of freight could also be moved efficiently and quickly by the same railways. Link this with a more comprehensive network of other local public transport, cyclepaths and footpaths in our settlements — and a future without the need to own a car could become realistic for many people.
We think reopening the Hunstanton railway could be a key component in a more sustainable transport system for West Norfolk. Not only could it provide a fast, reliable service for local residents but it could also remove thousands of holidaymaker vehicles from our roads — whilst reconnecting King’s Lynn docks to the railway could be just one way of reducing road freight as well.
In the wider setting — re-establishing an east-west rail route from Peterborough to Norwich would also have massive potential benefits for our sub-regional connectivity — potentially also tying in Wisbech, King’s Lynn, Swaffham and Dereham. This is not a far-fetched idea. Substantial parts of the route already remain from the rail network of the past. And even new rail routes are likely to be cheaper to build than major road building, whilst they would also take less land.