Monday 4 August 2003

Rail v Road

I like railways and was therefore pleased to read that a small extension is to be made to the Glasgow network:
Firms are to be invited to bid for the £28 million scheme between Hamilton and Larkhall in Lanarkshire, which will also provide more frequent cross-city trains through Glasgow.

Work on the long-delayed line is expected to start later this year, before planning permission runs out, and be completed in 2006.

A three-mile spur will re-link Larkhall to the rail network in the most extensive new track scheme since the re-laying of the Argyle line through Glasgow city centre in 1979.

Now I realise that the poor old taxpayer will be coughing up for some of the cost, but that's also the case with new roads. Without a free market in transport we can't tell whether rail or road is more appropriate.

There is some evidence that the case for rail is not being made properly. This report is interesting:

The authors say there is so much hype over train crashes that most people do not realise fatal accidents have been reduced every decade for the past 70 years.

There were 8.8 fatal crashes a year in 1940s, but only one per year in the 2000s.

Fewer passengers have died since privatisation than in the same period before privatisation - 97 deaths compared to 127.

They say if the public realised it cost taxpayers £10m to save each life with the new train warning system TPWS, but as little as £100,000 to save a life with safety measures on the roads, they might prefer to invest public money differently.

The great economist Frederic Bastiat explained the importance of both "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen" when analysing economic phenomena. Health and Safety regulations seem to be applied far more rigorously to the railway system than to our roads. What Is Seen (for those not blinded by anti-privatisation propaganda) is an increasingly safe railway. What Is Not Seen are the additional deaths and injuries to road users who might otherwise use a cheaper and less regulated railway.