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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Chamber Blog: Evening with the EU Transport Committee

By Emma Antrobus, Transport Policy Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Last week Tim Bentley, MD of Alstom, the Chamber’s patron member, and I met with the European Transport Committee on their visit to the North of England. Committee members from Italy, Belgium, France, Germany and Greece came on a fact-finding tour that took in developments at Manchester Airport, the National Rail Museum at York and the Mersey Posts developments in Liverpool. Tim and I met with them over a traditional Lancashire meal (including Heinz baked beans produced in Wigan, homemade pie and mushy peas, and crème brulee with the brulee made with Uncle Joe’s mint balls, also produced in Wigan).

Whilst the storm continues to rage over the UK’s membership of the EU, the Transport Committee, which is chaired by Brian Simpson MEP, continues to highlight the strength of a collective approach on strategic issues. Transport is vitally important for the economy, the ability to move people and goods fundamental to the growth of businesses. But, to be effective at supporting the economy, our transport networks need to cross borders – whether that is from Greater Manchester into Cheshire, Merseyside and Yorkshire, or the UK to mainland Europe or further afield.

Some of the work that the Committee has undertaken over the years includes the introduction of the denied boarding compensation for airline passengers, promotion of cleaner engines for buses and lorries, and developing a standard rail signalling system.

Discussions over dinner centred on the fourth railway package and inter-operability between rail networks. This is particularly pertinent when discussing the UK’s HS2 project for a new rail network to provide much-needed capacity and allow for that new network to connect the North of England directly to mainland Europe. Currently the Channel Tunnel is under-utilised but the access charges are high which acts as a barrier to other train operators.

The other issue is that UK railways are built to a different loading gauge which means that our infrastructure cannot accommodate standard European size trains – generally UK bridges are too low and platforms too high. This means that any rolling stock built for the UK is bespoke, resulting in higher unit costs as we cannot employ any economies of scale ordering standard units.

Overall, what I learnt was that the UK is respected across Europe for its transport heritage, its record in attracting private investment into transport and that every country is keen to have good connectivity to support their economies whilst protecting their local interests.

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