Slow-speed railways

Further to your editorial ‘Rail review not up to speed’ (Comment, 30 July) the government’s effort to revitalise the UK rail network is pitiful.

First, there is a history – in both national and now partial private ownership – where all attempts to improve the network are always half-hearted, and significant compromises made that fall far short of what had, or has been promised.

For example, the electrification of the East Coast Main Line was intended to introduce 140mph running speeds using IC225 purpose-designed trains.

The intention was to replace 125mph IC125 diesels but instead the units, introduced in 1989, were limited to 125mph, thus replacing trains that were limited to – wait for it – 125mph.

With privatisation came the apparent upgrade of the West Coast Main Line. The intention was to run 140mph trains and, once again, purpose-made trains were purchased.

However, the running speed limit was reduced to 125mph, having never been increased to 140mph, and journey times, at best, are marginally better than in the 1960s.

While the rest of Europe surges ahead with 204mph dedicated high-speed passenger railways, the UK persists in patching up a mixed-traffic Victorian inheritance called the UK railway system.

In addition, we are using trains that do not run any faster than the speed record set by the steam train The Mallard on the East Coast Main Line in 1938.

A European visitor who was looking at our system described it as being ‘a world-class, fully functional, railway museum.’

And to really put us to shame, as the National Railway Museum in the city of York took delivery of a Bullet Train from Japan – introduced in the 1960s – the West Coast Main Line received its brand new trains that run at lower speeds than the 40-year-old exhibit. OffRail we are indeed.

Andrew Porter

Ultra Electronics