Twin tracks

On one side of the English Channel, a French TGV is smashing the speed record for a train running on rails. At 357mph the French were just a whisker short of the all-time rail record set by a Japanese Maglev train.


How about this for a tale of two railways. On one side of the English Channel, a French TGV is smashing the speed record for a train running on rails. At 357mph the French were just a whisker short of the all-time rail record set by a Japanese Maglev train.


At the British end of the channel tunnel, the railways are also in the news though for less glamorous reasons. Network Rail this week announced a £2.4bn investment programme for the UK’s railway system. The programme, which is basically an amalgam of numerous small projects, is designed to give us a rail network that has a fighting chance of coping with rapidly growing demand .


Up and down the land platforms will be lengthened, overhead lines upgraded, car parks extended and stations given a lick of paint. As already noted, it’s hardly stuff to get the pulse racing in the style of a world record attempt, but it is at least some good news for an industry that has almost forgotten what good news feels like.


John Armitt, Network Rail’s chief executive said the cash boost would bring a quick improvement in travellers’ experience of the railways and added: ‘We’re not standing still waiting for the big infrastructure projects to be delivered.’


Ah yes, those big infrastructure projects. Crossrail, Thameslink 2000, the north-south high-speed link. They offer glimpses of a rail network that would transform the ‘experience’ of the travelling public beyond all recognition. One that would be a source of national pride rather than collective hand-wringing, and one that gives EasyJet and Ryan Air sleepless nights as it whisks passengers from north to south at speed and in comfort.


Network Rail is quite right to do what it can to make the system we have bearable, but the ‘big projects’ require the wholehearted backing of government, not least in hard cash.


The French are currently exporting their rail technology around the world. Thinking big has paid off in more ways than one. Vive les grands projets, as they say in France.



Andrew Lee


Editor

The Engineer & The Engineer Online