Just been interviewed by Real Radio about the newly announced high-speed rail link between London and Glasgow. I haven’t expanded my remit to cover transport now – just a random collaring at Piccadilly station. Good topic for a quick blog entry though, while I ride the standard speed train down to London.
Do we need a high speed rail link? My natural inclination is to say ‘yes, of course’. It’s cool new(ish) tech; it will make me more time-efficient; it cuts the arguments for the more carbon-intense options of flying and driving. But I find I’m not without concerns.
At £34bn, it’s not going to be cheap, and somehow that cost will inevitably be transferred to the traveler. Now that I have other people booking trains for me (in advance), I’m finding the costs a little less oppressive, but the trade-off is the lack of flexibility. The nature of work travel means that sometimes it is hard to predict when you will want to travel, but the price of open off peak tickets is absolutely prohibitive. I can already foresee a situation where I know the train could get me home in an hour, but I have to wait three hours for the next train my ticket allows me to take.
Higher speed also doesn’t fix the main problem with trains: they get you to where the tracks end, not where you want to go. Even if it only takes an hour to get into London, I would still choose to drive to meetings around the south east because of the cost and complexity of getting to smaller stations, and then from the stations to the meetings themselves. Without a car it takes huge amounts of time and money – neither of which I or most people can afford in a working day.
Despite all this though, on balance I am in favour of the new link. On occasions it will be very useful, and, I hope, the price might not be too painful.