Monday, 29 June 2015

Long-Term Economic Plan

On the train from Newcastle to Carlisle on Saturday, I marvelled, as I have done in the past, at the fact that every town in the Tory part of Northumberland had a railway station.

But not in the old mining, and still solidly Labour-voting, south east corner, where half the county's population lives.

And certainly not in County Durham, where a town the size of, for example, Consett, has not had a railway station since as long ago as 1955.

Yet Consett was a major steel town in those days, and Durham at large was a major mining county. It is generally supposed that everyone had expected that those things would always remain the case.

But the record of Beeching and before hints at something else.

Coal, steel and rail were known as the Triple Alliance, especially with reference to their respective trade unions during the three industries shared heyday.

Trains, like tracks, are made of steel, and they used to run on coal; they still do run on the electricity that is largely produced by the burning of coal, even though we do insist on importing it even while sitting on vast reserves of it.

Likewise, cutting off the coalfields and the steel towns by taking away their railway connections was a slow but inexorable way of killing them. 20 or 30 years later, they were "in the middle of nowhere". They had not always been so.

Moreover, just as the loss of the railways was fatal to heavy industries whose goods were not appropriate to other means of transport, so, in turn, the loss of those industries was fatal to the railways.

Reshaping, indeed, Dr Beeching. Reshaping, indeed.

But now that it looks as if no local authority in this country is ever going to permit fracking, the case has become even more pressing for a return to the coal that, unlike anything approaching enough shale gas, we know for a fact is there.

And thus the case for the only realistic means of transporting it, and for the industry that is necessary to build and maintain that means.

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