From derailments and fare hikes, to commuter woe and uninspired government policy, barely a day goes by without one aspect or another of our rail system coming in for some justified stick.
How refreshing then, that amongst this week’s tales of London underground chaos, it was a major UK engineering success story that put the railways on the front pages. Yesterday, after a £5.8bn upgrade of tracks and terminal, High Speed One, the UK end of the Eurostar service, finally caught up with its Gallic other-half and rocketed in to the record books.
Travelling at up to 200mph, the train made the 306 mile journey from Gare du Nord to London’s gloriously revamped St Pancras station in just over 2 hours 3 minutes, shaving around 30 minutes off the previous fastest time.
The record breaking breaking journey, ahead of the public opening of the revamped service in mid-November, has been hailed as the UK’s grand entrance to the high-speed rail club. But before we get too carried away, it’s probably worth casting our minds back to the UK’s most recent rail review, announced just a few weeks ago, in which Gordon Brown’s government more or less ruled out the kind of bold, ambitious schemes that would see similar high speed rail-links rolled out across the country.
So is the UK’s relationship with high-speed rail over before it’s barely begun? Hopefully not. For while it’s true that the rail review contained little to get excited about, government policies do tend to have a habit of changing depending on which way the wind is blowing. And in 15 years time, when a 200mph whizz through the Kent countryside has the irrefutable weight of success and popularity under its belt, maybe the government will turn its attention to the rest of us chugging slowly about the countryside on decrepit trains. Let’s hope so anyway.
Jon Excell, Features Editor