High-speed rail plans announced

The Transport Secretary Lord Adonis today announced plans for a new high-speed rail network, featuring trains travelling at up to 250 miles per hour.

The recommended route for the new network will run from London to Birmingham, with a future possible expansion into Northern England and Scotland. A Y-shaped extension could take the network to Manchester on the one and and Sheffield and Leeds on the other. The London Terminus will be at Euston Station. The exact route will be subject to public consultation, and work is unlikely to start before 2017 at the earliest.

Lord Adonis said the project would create 10,000 jobs and yield £2 in benefits for every £1 spent, and that the first 120 miles between London and the West Midlands would cost between £15.8bn and £17.4bn. The cost per mile beyond Birmingham is then estimated to halve, taking the overall cost of the 335 mile Y-shaped network to about £30bn.

The real problems centre around party politics and the economic situation. Whilst the Government are announcing plans now, who knows who will be in Government in the years when difficult decisions will have to be taken over funding. Public Spending is under intense pressure as it is. I cannot help but think that it is a political ploy and a typical New Labour solution to a problem – throw money at it, and worry about the cost later.

Local Consultation over the route will also be a minefield. I can well imagine nimby’s along every part of the route protesting because it spoils their view, knocks a tiny bit off the value of their house, or there is a rare species of millipede living nearby.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, said: “We welcome any move to expand the rail network and to bring more passengers on to the trains. However, development of HSR in the UK has been left in the slow lane because of our fragmented, privatised system which puts short-term profits first and long-term, strategic planning a very poor second.”

Wise words indeed from Mr Crow. It is very sad that Britain’s once fine railway network has been sacrificed on the altar of Thatcherism. If the rail system had been updated over the years when it should have been we wouldn’t need to be looking at a new-fangled High Speed network now. Even though the high-speed system will be a godsend for those travelling long-distance, it should not excuse the woeful neglect of the existing main and suburban lines. My other concern is the cost. It needs to be affordable and accesible to all, not an exclusive club for the well-off. It will need to compete with low-cost airlines and coach operators.

I still feel that the philosophy behind Britain’s rail network is fundamentally flawed. The Thatcherite idea of handing the railways over the private business hasn’t worked. No private company was ever going to invest a penny more than it had to, and shareholders were always going to be more important than the customer. Especially when the customers are relatively captive and can be taken for granted.

I cannot for the life of me see why countries such as Holland and Germany can run cheap, fast, efficient and reliable train services, as a public service, while Britain – the country that led the way with developing the Railways – flounders in the dark ages.



Filed under debate, News, railway history

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