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With capacity comes opportunity

Investment in the nation’s rail network is an investment in economic growth.

The UK’s rail network fulfils a vital role in connecting our towns, cities, communities and regions. But rail provides much more than a means of getting from A to B. Improvements that boost capacity or open up new routes provide a powerful stimulus for growth, regeneration and employment. Investing in rail is one of the most effective ways to boost the UK economy.

Investment is needed now because the current network is approaching full capacity. Today, rail supports 40 per cent more passenger journeys and 60 per cent more freight than it did a decade ago. At peak times on the busiest parts of the network, there is simply no space for more trains. Yet over the next 30 years, Network Rail expects freight demand to rise by 140 per cent and passenger demand to more than double.

Government and industry are working together to meet this capacity challenge across the rail network.

Practical improvements to ease congestion include running more frequent services and employing longer trains. However, even these apparently simple measures are not straightforward, as improvements to stations and platforms are typically needed to cater for additional carriages and increased passenger volumes.

One example of this is a project designed to increase capacity at Bank Underground station in the City of London. One of the capital’s most complex infrastructure schemes, the work will improve connection times between Tube lines and dramatically improve the passenger experience. A new Northern Line southbound tunnel will liberate more platform space, while improved interchange tunnels and an additional station entrance will reduce crowding at peak times. Tunnelling will take place under iconic landmarks such as the Bank of England and Mansion House, and importantly the work has been carefully planned to ensure that this crucial transport hub will remain open throughout construction.

That said, there is a limit to what can be done with existing infrastructure, and new lines will play an important part in supporting increased rail traffic.

HS2, one of the UK’s most transformational new rail projects, is set to have a profound impact on the economy. It will provide a high-speed link bridging the north-south divide and, importantly, liberate passenger and freight capacity by taking longer journeys off existing lines.

There is also growing investment in the country’s regional and rural lines. The reopening of disused railway lines is an efficient way of meeting demand by reclaiming former infrastructure.

A prime example of how new railway investment can revitalise communities is offered by the Borders Railway project. Delivered by Network Rail in partnership with Transport Scotland, the project involves reopening the Waverley Line that was closed by Beeching in 1969.

The new line is more than a restoration of the original route – it includes 30 miles of new track and seven new stations, making it the longest new domestic railway to be constructed in Britain for more than 100 years. As well as a driver for local regeneration, the new line has already proved to be a catalyst for the wider Scottish economy, driving inward investment, business development and housing opportunities. New communities are developing along the route, and with them numerous opportunities for employment, business, tourism and leisure.

The Waverley Line example demonstrates both the harm caused by a lack of infrastructure and the benefits of network improvements, underlining the strong connection between investment in rail and economic growth.

Clearly, rail is not the answer to every transport question. The greatest stimulus to the economy will come from a joinedup approach, where improvements to rail, road and aviation are tackled in concert.

Coordinated development at a national scale will not be easy, but the potential rewards could be huge.

Ian Hay is the UK director of rail at URS Investment in the nation’s rail network is an investment in economic growth

 

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

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The struggles of Huma Abedin

On the behind-the-scenes story of Hillary Clinton’s closest aide.

In a dreary campaign, it was a moment that shone: Hillary Clinton, on the road to the caucus in Iowa, stopping at a Mexican fast-food restaurant to eat and somehow passing unrecognised. Americans of all political persuasions gleefully speculated over what her order – a chicken burrito bowl with guacamole – revealed about her frame of mind, while supporters gloated that the grainy security-camera footage seemed to show Clinton with her wallet out, paying for her own lunch. Here was not the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, known to people all over the world. This was someone’s unassuming grandmother, getting some food with her colleagues.

It might be unheard of for Clinton to go unrecognised but, for the woman next to her at the till, blending into the background is part of the job. Huma Abedin, often referred to as Clinton’s “shadow” by the US media, is now the vice-chair of her presidential campaign. She was Clinton’s deputy chief of staff at the state department and has been a personal aide since the late 1990s.

Abedin first met Clinton in 1996 when she was 19 and an intern at the White House, assigned to the first lady’s office. She was born in Michigan in 1976 to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother. When Abedin was two, they moved from the US to Saudi Arabia. She returned when she was 18 to study at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Her father was an Islamic scholar who specialised in interfaith reconciliation – he died when she was 17 – and her mother is a professor of sociology.

While the role of “political body woman” may once have been a kind of modern maid, there to provide a close physical presence and to juggle the luggage and logistics, this is no longer the case. During almost 20 years at Clinton’s side, Abedin has advised her boss on everything from how to set up a fax machine – “Just pick up the phone and hang it up. And leave it hung up” – to policy on the Middle East. When thousands of Clinton’s emails were made public (because she had used a private, rather than a government, server for official communication), we glimpsed just how close they are. In an email from 2009, Clinton tells her aide: “Just knock on the door to the bedroom if it’s closed.”

Abedin shares something else with Clinton, outside of their professional ties. They are both political wives who have weathered their husbands’ scandals. In what felt like a Lewinsky affair for the digital age, in 2011, Abedin’s congressman husband, Anthony Weiner, resigned from office after it emerged that he had shared pictures of his genitals with strangers on social media. A second similar scandal then destroyed his attempt to be elected mayor of New York in 2013. In an ironic twist, it was Bill Clinton who officiated at Abedin’s and Weiner’s wedding in 2010. At the time, Hillary is reported to have said: “I have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would [be] Huma.” Like her boss, Abedin stood by her husband and now Weiner is a house husband, caring for their four-year-old son, Jordan, while his wife is on the road.

Ellie Foreman-Peck

A documentary filmed during Weiner’s abortive mayoral campaign has just been released in the US. Weiner shows Abedin at her husband’s side, curtailing his more chaotic tendencies, always flawless with her red lipstick in place. Speaking to the New York Observer in 2007, three years before their marriage, Weiner said of his future wife: “This notion that Senator Clinton is a cool customer – I mean, I don’t dispute it, but the coolest customer in that whole operation is Huma . . . In fact, I think there’s some dispute as to whether Huma’s actually human.” In the film, watching her preternatural calm under extraordinary pressure, you can see what he means.

In recent months, Abedin’s role has changed. She is still to be found at Clinton’s side – as the burrito photo showed – but she is gradually taking a more visible role in the organisation overall, as they pivot away from the primaries to focus on the national race. She meets with potential donors and endorsers on Clinton’s behalf and sets strategy. When a running mate is chosen, you can be sure that Abedin will have had her say on who it is. There’s a grim symmetry to the way politics looks in the US now: on one side, the Republican candidate Donald Trump is calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country; on the other, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton relies ever more on her long-time Muslim-American staffer.

Years before Trump, notable Republicans were trying to make unpleasant capital out of Abedin’s background. In 2012, Tea Party supporters alleged that she was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and its attempt to gain access “to top Obama officials”. In her rare interviews, Abedin has spoken of how hurtful these baseless statements were to her family – her mother still lives in Saudi Arabia. Later, the senator and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain spoke up for her, saying that Abedin represented “what is best about America”.

Whether senior figures in his party would do the same now remains to be seen.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad