Last year drivers clocked up more than 300 billion vehicle miles on UK roads. That’s a lot of driving, especially when you remember that there are less than 246,000 miles of road to drive on. It’s not surprising that a large number of those miles were driven at something less than an optimal pace: congestion has become an everyday nightmare for millions of Britons.
A disproportionate amount of the UK’s traffic – more than 30 percent – is carried by less than three percent of the total road network: the motorways and major A roads that constitute the Strategic Road Network. And projections to 2040 show a potential growth in traffic on the Strategic Road Network of between 30 and 60 percent. The top figure there would mean something like 110 billion vehicle miles being carried by 2.4 percent of the nations’ roads. It is a prospect that hardly looks sustainable.
So, are we destined for a future of congestion carnage, even gridlock? The current five-year Road Investment Strategy is injecting over £15 billion in new road infrastructure and improvements, but it isn’t exactly clear if it’s anything like enough to counter balance the strain that the system is under. Building roads is slow, expensive, disruptive and often controversial. Is there a better way? Well, we think there is: working smarter instead of (just) harder.
Already, rail schemes throughout the UK have demonstrated how digital technologies can increase capacity on existing infrastructure safely and at minimal cost compared to building new lines. In recent work with Transport for London, we project managed the improvements to signalling and track-to-train technologies that dramatically increased the number of trains going through one of London’s busiest stations, with minimal impact on customers. The significant increase in capacity meant that more trains could safely pass through every hour. Similar approaches to roads have the potential to transform how the strategic road network performs. I have directly seen just how effective this approach can be, through my work with the then Highways Agency in developing the first smart motorway schemes, where we managed traffic speeds and flows accordingly. But we had only begun to scratch the surface.
From the perspective of Project Manager, what’s clear is that road and rail schemes taking a ‘one team’ approach – whereby all of the contractural parties work together to a shared goal – are far more successful. The question then… can we do this across modes?
Rapidly developing technology in cars and smartphones offer a potential level of connectivity that is staggering. We cannot continue to think of road, rail and other transport networks as self-contained, albeit interlocking systems, but will have to consider them as parts of a single system, because that is what the hyper-connected consumer will expect. It will mean knocking down silos between the road and the rail networks. Inter-organisational multi-industry working will have to reach a level that some are not, perhaps, naturally comfortable with.
According to recently announced Government plans the UK’s roads will be dominated by electric vehicles by 2040 and a digital ‘train to track’ rail network in a similar period.
Like future trains, a good proportion of electric cars will presumably be autonomous, in constant contact with and feeding back to digital communications networks. The rest will have as standard level of digital connectivity that is a step change from the already impressive levels we see today. These vehicles and their owners will be able to communicate with road and rail, adjust and respond in real time, all of the time! If we develop the digital infrastructure capable of providing real solutions for A to B journeys, regardless of the mode, then we need have no fear of the projected rise in car use in the next 30 years.
Giles Henday is Partner at CPC – Project Management specialists for the transport and property sectors. He has over 30 years experience of delivering high profile, complex transport projects, Giles has led Programme Management Offices on behalf of clients across rail and highways. He believes that project management tools and techniques can be shared across all transport modes. Giles is a strong advocate of improving collaborative working to get the job done.
Giles Henday – Partner CPC