Once upon a time in a cafe in central London two wise men used the back of their cigarette packet to draw coloured lines on a map of England going northwards. Their idea was to speed up travel time to places like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds by a few minutes by spending a few billion pounds. In the process the plan was to buy up hundreds of houses and farms which would be in the way of this new line. It was to be called the HS2 line.
The London to Birmingham route would consist of 32 miles of tunnels. In fact the line runs from the outskirts of London. Even now there is no certainty that the line will ever reach Euston Station unless private money is found. It is rather like building a bridge two thirds over a river just hoping something will turn up so the project can be completed. To date £464 million has been spent buying up property which in the end was not required north of Birmingham as the scheme has been cancelled. The day after the project was stopped, compulsory purchases were being completed. It is estimated that more house buying transactions are in the pipeline and will have to go ahead. Announcing the decision to finally end this chaos the Prime Minister told us that £36 million would be spent on local transport improvements instead. The day after this one of the schemes was aborted.
Since taking office the Prime Minister has told the country he is anxious to see us cut carbon emissions. That probably explains why he is against charging old cars money if they pollute the cities. It also explains that since taking office he has flown somewhere on average every eight days. His explanation for taking flights even for short journeys is that it is the best use of his time, despite the excessive cost to the taxpayer. It is little wonder he is not too bothered about rail travel since he can look down from the air rather than travel by rail.
We clearly need an effective transport system that links our regions. Other countries with far more demanding terrain have provided effective transport links, such as Norway, which is mountainous, with small isolated settlements but still has effective links to its cities. France has their very fast railway system that can transport people from north to south in a few hours. We have a fragmented private railway system which just does not serve us well. Going to Newcastle from Plymouth required me to return via London and change trains. Purchasing tickets to get the best price at the time that you need to travel can be a nightmare. Often television images show people packed like sardines on trains. We are now well into months of industrial action by rail workers. Shareholders of private rail companies have reaped the benefits whilst the travelling public have suffered from a totally inadequate system. National ownership would be a better solution. The problem is that buy out these companies is going to be a very expensive exercise which will be kicked down the road by all governments. Ever since Beeching brought down his axe on local lines the railway network has suffered. Rail travel is both expensive and unreliable. Perhaps we need to follow the advice of Lord Tebbitt who told us all to get on our bikes.If the roads were not full of potholes it would be a solution.