Escaping the sidings of history

1 min read

It is time to decide whether we want to be a nation on the fast track to the future or settle for the branch line to mediocrity, stopping at cut-price parkway and second-rate central.

As you read this, Network Rail is due to reveal its preferred option for the UK’s second high-speed rail route, linking London with the north of England and maybe Scotland.

Keep an eye on for details of the announcement. Whatever the rail operator says, however, the ultimate decision will rest with the government, which will have to fund the new line from its severely depleted coffers.

With a price tag estimated to range between £10bn and £30bn depending on how far north the line goes and what technological bells and whistles are added, will HS2 be worth it? Yes, yes and yes again.

Every time HS2 is discussed, heartfelt arguments are advanced that we cannot afford it and that the rail network is an expensive red herring distracting us from sorting out the roads.

Fair points. I would argue, however, that we cannot afford not to build it, that without a second line the UK is doomed to remain a nation divided and at the mercy of air travel and increasingly overcrowded motorway links for those who want or need to travel its length. As for the roads, a high-speed network would take thousands of journeys off the roads every week.

It is a depressing fact that a tenth of the ‘quantitative easing’ funds being pumped into the banking system and apparently vanishing without trace would buy us a rail network that generations to come could be proud of and would thanks us for. The real question is, have we got the ambition to leave those generations a legacy greater than a bunch of half-bust banks?

Talking of railway legacy, I urge you to read The Engineer’s 1888 account of a trip on the London to Edinburgh train, available in its original in pdf form here:

Drivers, crew and passengers alike apparently found the trip one of abject terror. The Engineer’s journalist boarded the train to leap to its defence and praise the majesty of inter-city rail travel. We make the same claims for it today.

Andrew Lee