Anton Coaker: Trains are fine - but who needs to travel at 225mph?
I'll say first that I have no particular axe to grind with railways. I recognise both their benefits and their failings. I quite enjoy a relaxed trip by choo choo train, and put up with it when it doesn't go as smoothly. In some situations. I'm sure they're more efficient than cars and buses and lorries. But I'm not at all convinced about this here 'High speed rail link', twixt London and Leeds and Manchester, and several points between.
What is it that's so pressing that anyone has got to get from one to the other in five minutes? After all, the only 3D objects that you can argue need to be conveyed at such speeds are people, and what exactly has anyone got to do that is so important? If they're going to say something, can't they use the phone?
The speed the trains are reckoned to be good for is quoted at 225mph, which sounds jolly fast. But the physics involved in getting a great lump of metal up to that speed must be considerable, and stopping and starting is going to burn an awful lot of juice. So don't expect too many stop-off points, without kangaroo fuel at least, especially around the city due to have two stations – one for the airport, one for town. Another is going to have its station five miles outside town! Who on earth decided that? The local taxi cab company?
In fact, we'd better get down to the nitty gritty, and ask who'd lobby for such a monumental bit of nonsense. Who stands to gain? Businesses evolve around what they have to hand, and what the market will support. If there was a large unsatisfied demand for high speed links between these cities, cheapo airlines would fill it instantly, and when they couldn't find enough slots to land on overburdened runways, building a new airport would absolutely certainly take up far less space and time.
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So is it a desire to prompt great leaps in commerce, by creating this new speedy inter-city link, around which previously un-thought of business will arise? Or is it the covert desire to radically raise the value of a couple hundred acres of redundant textile mill sites? After the Beeb moved wholesale chunks of their being into the frozen wastes of the north, did that produce a new demograph of telly execs clamouring for this link? If the Beeb moved north because London was too expensive, will the rail link level the playing field once more? I suppose they could keep on heading up the road looking for cheaper digs. Where's next? Aberdeen? In fact, can I have a high speed link to my local boozer, to boost their takings?
Will proximity to new stations create a property boom as punters become aware that they could feasibly commute 200 miles from one city to another? Are the benefits to the companies involved in the construction work and making the hardware carefully separated from the benefits of the line to the nation as a whole? After all, quite apart from all the navvies digging up half of Warwickshire, there are an awful lot of suits involved in this project. Effective lobbying for something which will earn you money is a lot more likely than anyone lobbying against something because it won't earn them anything.
I heard an official argument for the project from some twerp who was counting and quoting the amount of employment that the construction itself generates. Never mind potential lasting benefits, just the act of building this great white railway (or does that invoke the name GWR?) was justification enough. You might as well suggest that forcing the unemployed to dig holes and then fill them in again would lead to full employment. Utter nonsense.
He then went on to list some of the frontline manufacturing companies who're going to benefit. I couldn't see how it would help anyone just because employees or visitors can shave an hour or two off that particular journey. You can hardly say freight needs to move at 225mph.
No, it's wrong headed, and I don't buy it. Unless folding stuff is changing hands, it's just digging up more countryside for the sake of it. If current capacity isn't enough in our increasingly overcrowded little Island, let's talk about a way of 'uncrowding' it a bit… oops, did I go a bit far there?