torsdag 6 september 2007

Does Britain really need a new high speed railway?

Originally uploaded by iwouldstay.

I have been pondering this further. What actually is the aim and purpose of a long distance high speed rail link? And how might such a link be tied into Britain's sub-standard infrastructure? And what might be/needs to be done to upgrade that?

There are obvious gaps in electrification. London to Bristol and Cardiff/Oxford/Banbury/Birmingham, Bristol to Birmingham, Leeds to Manchester come to mind and there are probably others. And capacity improvements can be achieved by grade separated junctions, signalling schemes, platform lengthening, upgrading of alternative routes. As well as improved design of rolling stock; replacement of slam door stock actually resulted in a loss in seating due to poor design.

Then the Channel Tunnel High Speed line needs to be brought further into the country, as much for freight as passenger services. Since this runs on the east side of England, much of which is flat and relatively undeveloped, it might be possible to construct a new route northwards, perhaps parallel to the East Coat Main line for some of the way.

The problem zone is in the Leeds - Manchester - Dover - Bournemouth "box" where 85% of the population live and generate most of the journeys, too many of which are by car rather than any form of public transport. The comparable area on mainland Europe is not France with its TGV but Belgium, Holland and the Rhine-Ruhr conurbation north of Cologne. The most important routes there are served not by high speed trains but by double-deck regional expresses, which are efficient peoplemovers and run at a top speed of about 160kph. It is just possible that the former Great Central alignment could be used as a spine route for this purpose. If some way of linking it to the Channel Tunnel, this too would be a good thing, primarily as a freight distributor. Which if I recall was the Central Railways plan, which the government knocked on the head.

So that is a programme in itself. As for the 300+ mile journeys which people are tending to make by air, perhaps we should not worry unduly as the numbers involved are relatively small and in any case the problem will solve itself as the cost of air travel rises.

If the aim is to promote regeneration of the north and Scotland, there are other ways of doing it than putting in expensive infrastructure, most importantly, through the tax system which at present fails to take account of geographical disadvantage.

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