Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Why don’t people think before they write?

Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 13 December 2009

Network Rail have published a study that they have conducted into the expansion of the railway network in Great Britain. The flagship proposal, and the one that garnered all the headlines, was the construction of a new high speed rail line between London and Edinburgh/Glasgow, at a cost estimated at £34bn. Let me make it clear first off that this is not policy; although the Government has commissioned its own HSR plans via a company it has set up called High Speed 2, this doesn’t report until the end of the year. However, the fact that the two bodies that would have responsibility for any HSR project (the Government who would pay for it, and Network Rail who would build and run it) are broadly singing from the same hymn sheet is good. So, I’m sitting outside Canongate Kirk on Sunday afternoon, waiting to go in for a concert, when I read the commentator (I forget her name, which is probably a good thing) in the Scottish Sunday Express about this. This woman says that she has experienced High Speed Rail before, when 30 years ago she used to work in Japan and used the Shinkansen on a regular basis. She then went on to ask why people would want to travel that way, because her experience was so bumpy and rickety, even with the benefits of travelling over 200 km/h. She then asked why people would want to travel so fast, why not enjoy the passage of the countryside at a more serene pace. Well, to answer the second question first, because people who need to be somewhere quickly need to travel fast. At the moment, aeroplanes are fast, so someone who needs to travel from (say) London to Glasgow regularly for business can get there much faster by aeroplane than by train right now (it takes around four and a half hours to get from London Euston to Glasgow Central). If you take two hours off that travelling time, the train immediately becomes that much more attractive, because you end up right in the centre of the city, which is most likely where you need to be. Two hours on the train and two hours back leaves you most of the day to deal with your business. That’s the reason high flying business people liked Concorde; it was so fast it gave them back time. As for the first question, it’s quite likely that the first Shinkansen lines were quite rickety given they were built 40 YEARS AGO! Rail construction methods have moved on, and are the reason that high speed trains can now travel twice as smoothly at 300km/h. Basically, my response to this woman’s comments was “stupid woman”.

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