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Take the electric motorway, then continue on the road to ruin


AFTER the advent of the ‘smart’ (aka killer) motorway, stand by for something else to make your travelling experience more interesting . . . the electric motorway. 

In the Government’s demented drive for ‘net zero’ carbon by 2050, sales of diesel lorries are to be banned from 2040 in favour of (yet-to-be-invented) electric versions. 

And to power these eco-compliant heavy goods vehicles, one plan being mooted is to string thousands of miles of overhead high-voltage cable lines above the inside lanes of motorways, similar to those bordering railway tracks. 

Trucks would pick up current from the cables via train-style retractable pantograph connectors on their cabin roofs, feeding their electric motors. At the same time, a back-up battery for when the vehicles are on non-electric routes would be charged. 

The plan was proposed in a report compiled last year by the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, a research organisation funded ultimately by the Government. 

Speaking of it last week, along with other ‘greenprint’ projects, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘Decarbonisation is not just some technocratic process. It’s about how we make sure that transport shapes quality of life and the economy in ways that are good.’

As you’d expect, the report on the UKEMS (UK Electric Motorway System) makes everything sound straightforward. A start would be made in 2025, followed by at least seven years of construction work, covering more than 4,500 miles of motorway and main roads at a cost of £19.3billion.  

Having regularly seen financial estimates and timescales for huge public works go spectacularly awry, should we believe this one?  Or will it be HS2 on tarmac instead of on rails? 

To embittered veterans of motorway congestion such as myself, seven years of roadworks sounds like a nightmare of delays. But the report says breezily: ‘Most of the construction can be done from the hard shoulder, without disrupting the traffic.’ 

Er, hasn’t anyone told them that ‘smart’ motorways – which are still being built despite being blamed for at least 18 deaths since 2015 – don’t have hard shoulders? Back to the drawing board on that one.  

If the power lines do go ahead, I imagine there’d be an endless stream of speed-limited lorries trundling along the electrified inside lane. Surely it would put the lane effectively out of use for other vehicles, adding to congestion?  

Mind you, there’ll probably be fewer cars on the roads by then, the plebs having been priced out of ownership. Sales of new petrol and diesel cars will cease from 2030 and electric automobiles are even now carrying premium price tags. 

But it’s interesting to note that faith in overhead electricity supplies or batteries to keep lorries moving doesn’t seem to be total. The report suggests vehicles should also be fitted with a small diesel-fuelled ‘range extender’ – what the rest of us call a generator – to keep batteries charged. 

The Road Haulage Association, representing freight operators, is sceptical about the whole power lines plan. Its spokesman said members support the goal of reducing lorry pollution, but ‘the means of getting there are unrealistic’. 

He added: ‘These alternative HGVs don’t yet exist. We don’t know when they will, and it’s not clear what any transition will look like. So this is a blue skies aspiration ahead of real-life reality. For many haulage companies there are fears around cost of new vehicles and a collapse in resale value of existing lorries.’ 

Hanging over it all, of course, is the big question that’s never yet been properly answered by the ‘climate change’ zealots: Where will all the electricity we need to maintain some sort of normal life come from in our zero-carbon future?   

Once Britain has become the Saudi Arabia of Wind Power (© B Johnson, 2020), will onshore and offshore turbines generate enough juice to keep lorries rolling as well as supplying the rest of the nation’s energy needs? The answer is blowing in the wind. But anyone banking on it is a trucking idiot.

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Henry Getley
Henry Getley
Henry Getley is a freelance journalist.

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