For the first time in recent history, a national party has set out a detailed strategic plan for the railways. GARETH DENNIS interrogates the Scottish Greens’ “Rail for All” report.

A version of this article also appeared in Issue 924 (10 February 2021) of RAIL magazine.

The COVID crisis in the UK has shown how important it is to have a plan, but this isn’t news to those of us wanting to see improvements in the rail industry. Pretty much every problem the railways in Britain are facing now results from the lack of any attempt by government to create a long-term plan.

This is for all sorts of reasons, but a lack of interest in detailed policy at the party level is certainly a contributing factor. Indeed, at least…

Can the party ever move beyond its various legacies and internally competing ideologies?

Today, a faction of the Green Party of England and Wales (including leading elected members) has publicly denounced their party’s stated position on Britain’s new high speed railway line, HS2.

In their statement explaining the split, Greens4HS2 highlight that, far from forming party policy, the anti-HS2 (and thus, anti-rail) stance of the GPEW is based only on a policy statement dating back to their 2011 conference. Meanwhile, the formal policy remains that “…[the] Green Party supports the principle of a new north-south high speed line…” which takes precedence over the conference statement.

But the divergence represents more than just a…

If it isn’t autonomous, and it isn’t a metro system, then what exactly is the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro? GARETH DENNIS dives under the hood of this strange project.

A version of this article also appeared in Issue 918 (18 November 2020) of RAIL magazine.

Have you heard the word “gadgetbahn” before? It is a portmanteau coined to describe transport proposals that, to all intents and purposes, ought to be delivered using proven railway technology and yet go out of their way to be anything but a railway. Typically, such systems are intended to distract from or be at the expense of investment in proper, functional public transport.

In the last week or two, a couple of significant gadgetbahn projects have been hitting the headlines again, and one of…

This article was originally published in CityMetric on 23 March 2020.

This morning, in what can only be characterised as a whimper rather than a wail, the rail franchising system that has been in place in Britain since 1996 came to a rather unceremonious end.

With travel limited to only critical workers as a result of the rapid spread of coronavirus — EVERYONE ELSE: STAY INDOORS — there was never a chance that the over-stretched rail system would cope in its current guise, and it was likely that government would have to step in.

And step in they have. Rather…

This article was originally published in CityMetric on 6 January 2020.

At the end of December, activists and celebrity supporters relaunched their #RethinkHS2 campaign opposing the UK’s new high-speed line with a rather glossy video voiced by Emma Thompson, featuring the music of Annie Lennox and front-staging the bauble-hanging skills of Chris Packham.

The video, and the whole premise of this campaign, is based on a single mistruth: that HS2 will destroy over 100 ancient woodlands (it won’t). The result is a typically misguided “green” attack on HS2, and hopefully I am about to explain why.

Firstly, let me make…

New report promises a railway strategy but delivers a recipe for catastrophe

It’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the clarity of their conclusions when a report’s authors have to pop up on the evening radio on the day of its release, backpedalling desperately — and, in the case of the National Infrastructure Commissions’s Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and the North, that’s precisely what commissioners had to do. …

The fatal derailment at Stonehaven has put the condition of railway earthworks into sharp focus. GARETH DENNIS looks at how the extremes of weather as a result of climate change can impact on earthwork resilience.

A version of this article also appeared in Issue 912 (26 August 2020) of RAIL magazine.

I originally wrote this piece whilst Coronavirus was rightly holding the attention of news cycles, but just prior to its publication, a fatal derailment occurred near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire following very high rainfall and a spate of landslides. Suddenly the impact on our railway infrastructure of a rapidly changing climate and its impact on weather extremes became headline news.

These extremes are taking an increasing toll on all aspects of railway operation, but earthworks — hidden away out of sight in most cases, and…

GARETH DENNIS takes us on a journey along a line that, perhaps like no other, conjures up pride in those who have worked or travelled on it.

A version of this article also appeared in Issue 873 (27th February 2019) of RAIL magazine as part of their Seven Railway Wonders series.

It was built as a racetrack of iron. 118 miles of near-straight alignment carving its way through the English countryside. Not content with being the world’s first high speed railway, it also carried Britain’s first passenger-carrying high-speed train only 135 years later.

Despite the iconic trains that have operated upon it, this epic piece of infrastructure still manages to make the track the story, and for that reason alone I should be enthralled by it, but…

No list of railway wonders would be complete without including the great marvel of modern civil engineering that is the Channel Tunnel… GARETH DENNIS looks at the story of its inception, construction and operation.

A version of this article also appeared in Issue 878 (8th May 2019) of RAIL magazine as part of their Seven Railway Wonders series.

It is one of the few train journeys left in the UK that can inspire the giddy joy of the early days of steam, and yet passenger travel is only a very small part of its purpose.

Without it, the UK couldn’t function. It is as simple as that. Countless vital products too time-critical to ship and too numerous to fly arrive onto our little island every day via this portal to the continent.

Of course…

As its successful application to gain UNESCO world heritage site status so eloquently states, “No bridge is so distinctive from others as is the Forth Bridge from its peers.” GARETH DENNIS explores why he thinks this iconic structure is one of the great wonders of the world.

A version of this article also appeared in Issue 872 (13th February 2019) of RAIL magazine as part of their Seven Railway Wonders series.

Built in the aftermath of one of the most infamous engineering failures in history and at a time of faltering confidence in British economic prowess, the Forth Bridge stands tall as a testament to the longevity of railway transport and is (in my opinion at least) the finest engineering monument humans have ever raised.

At the time of its opening, it connected the cities of the Scottish central belt with the coalfields and ports of Fife…

Gareth Dennis

Railway engineer. Writer. Sustainable transport advocate. Director of @PermanentRail. Lecturer at @BCRRE etc. Leads @PWI_York. STEMist. Feminist. He/him. 🏳️‍🌈

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store