If you”re anti one issue, it stands to reason that you”ve got to be for another doesn”t it?
As the massed ranks of greens, environmentalists and beleaguered Heathrow flight path residents, as well as those living in the way of any proposed third runway club together in outrage, just what are the alternatives?
There is a perfectly valid argument that says we have to move on from using domestic air travel in the UK, towards a more high-speed rail approach that obviates the need to burn CO2 at 30,000ft and be whisked quickly and cleanly from London to Edinburgh.
But the key element of that is clearly the concept of high-speed. As anyone who has travelled from the British capital to its Scottish counterpart knows, the journey at best takes a good four hours-plus and often considerably more than that depending on time of day ” let alone factoring in the horrendous cost.
Work seems to have been going on for ever on the West Coast Main Line and while it will undoubtedly improve journey times considerably when completed, the new forecasts are hardly likely to have SNCF looking across the English Channel with envy.
But isn”t Britain crying out for a genuine dedicated high-speed rail link? North-South, we”re roughly on a par with the large cities in France. Aberdeen-London is around the same distance as Paris-Toulouse but a world away in terms of speed and price.
France has made it very clear ” as have Spain and Germany ” that high-speed train travel is the future. And what does the UK do? Wring its hands and do precisely nothing.
There”s only so much cake to go round as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. No argument there, but isn”t transport, that affects just about every man, woman and child in the UK every single day of their lives, worth slicing the cake a bit differently for?
The Department for Transport (DfT) has made it abundantly clear that it expects the UK”s hard-pressed taxpayer to contribute substantially more for the privilege of squeezing onto our vastly overcrowded network than it does at present. The aim apparently is to achieve 50:50 parity between fares raised and public subsidy ” down from the approximate 75:25 split at the moment.
Where is the chance of a real, SNCF-like network happening with a funding structure such as that?
This is surely one of the most massively short-sighted views of the long-term possibly imaginable.
One design and engineering company ” Atkins ” estimates that a genuinely quick rail network could contribute more than ”60bn ” yes that much ” to the UK economy as business productivity is ramped up through better, more efficient connections.
Now clearly, Atkins has a vested interest here. It estimates that building super-fast routes on the east and west coasts could cost ”31bn ” and presumably it would pitch for a fair amount of that.
But Atkins also says that journey times could be slashed from London to Birmingham to one hour and to Glasgow to three hours. Allied to that, any new, dedicated lines would clearly free up capacity on existing lines and encourage passengers to switch from road to rail.
There seems to be a deafening silence from the UK government on this issue. They”re the first ones to jump up and down about the need to reduce carbon emissions. Here”s a cut and dried way to do it. Why aren't they leaping forward?
Without political will, nothing can happen. Successive British governments have paid lip service to developing long-distance trunk routes and have done precisely nothing. Yes, there has been some funding announced ” the DfT claims ”10bn by 2014 will be invested in 1,300 extra train carriages for example ” but this is a drop in the ocean.
And while we”re at it, what about the sky-high exorbitant cost of travelling on the UK rail system? A quick trot across to Belgium, Holland, Spain, Germany and France will shock the UK passenger who will see just what good value those networks are.
Transport in the main is not a luxury; it”s a daily necessity that is becoming an ever-more unpleasant experience particularly in the South East. But not only in that corner of England. Listen to any traffic report in the UK and you will hear ”jams on the M8 near Glasgow Airport.”
And I come back to my point. If you are anti aviation expansion, what are you actually for? Are you for ambitious rail expansion and taking to the airwaves with the same vociferous enthusiasm with which aviation is denounced? Are you for lobbying government for high-speed links? Are you for cutting the cost of rail travel to make it affordable, rather than commuters from Kent paying ”3,000 annually to slog 60 miles into London?
If this, or any government of any political hue, is serious about improving the lot of its citizens, it could take a good long look at other European long-distance rail systems, without even being prompted by lobbyists.
It may be wishful thinking, but how can the country with the fourth highest GDP in the world, have such deliberate short-term thinking. Or is this administration just putting off until tomorrow what could be ” started ” today?