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Give engineers more say in road planning

AGENDA

NEWSPAPERS grimly warned of rail chaos over the Bank Holiday. Travellers were braced for a weekend wasted on delayed trains.

Yet, for once, all the warnings were overblown. Of course, there was some disruption, but it was planned. New airconditioned coaches swept passengers swiftly past engineering works. On alternative routes extra carriages helped to eased the burden.

Network Rail's shift from short, stop-start possessions to longer-term blockades went like clockwork - with no engineering hiccups either. These are still early days, but the network operator's claims of 30-40 per cent efficiency savings from longer-term possessions look well founded.

So it seems the verdict is that the short-term pain is well worth the long-term gain.

What is frustrating is that this is the very message rail contractors have being trying to get across since rail privatisation.

What has changed is Network Rail, which now boasts a good number of engineers within its decision-making chain, is prepared to take the hard decisions its predecessor, Railtrack, shied away from.

The case for properly planned strategic maintenance is proven. But there are some parallels between the bad old days of rail and the maintenance of our local roads network which ring the alarm bells. A survey published this week reveals that the condition of our local roads worsened again this year. In fact they have deteriorated every year since 1996.

Part of the problem lies with local authorities failing to spend cash allocated for road repairs. Much more worryingly, these authorities are opting for the short-term patch-and-mend approach to maintenance.

This is precisely what happened to the rail industry and look what happened there.

The advice of engineers must be given more weight in road planning. If decision-making continues to be dominated by political shorttermism, the headlines about transport chaos will become a crippling economic reality.

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