Editor’s blog: Watch out for Nimbys on high-speed track

I can vividly remember my first trip on our first (and still only) high-speed line to the Channel Tunnel, fifteen years ago. There I was in my seat at the old Eurostar terminus at Waterloo, expecting the train to be travelling at Warp Factor Three by the time we hit Brixton. For someone who had mis-spent his youth between the age of 10 and 12 collecting train numbers, this was a big deal. I was cruelly disappointed. We trundled along at barely walking pace through South London, stopping for signals, to admire the playing fields of Dulwich and to allow elderly ladies across the line. Things barely sped up once we hit Kent, and it took ages to reach the coast.

The humiliation of all Brits on board was complete when we eventually emerged from the tunnel on the French side, the train extended its overhead pantograph, and the conductor smugly announced: ‘Nous allons maintenant a trois cent kilometres a l’heure’.

Fans of high-speed train travel will be heartened by today’s announcement that Network Rail thinks we ought to built a new super-quick line, to open in 2025. All the arguments appear highly convincing. Passenger numbers continue to grow, and by 2020 the main line to Birmingham and the North-West will be full. By 2025, our paltry 70 miles of high-speed track will be outnumbered by Spain (4415 miles) France (4135 miles) and even Morocco (422 miles). A new line would reduce the journey time to Manchester to 1 hour and 6 minutes and Glasgow to 2 hours and 16 minutes.

Having just returned from a Ryanair-enabled holiday, I’m also persuaded that short-haul air travel – even if it isn’t wasn’t planet-wrecking in terms of passenger miles per unit of energy – is now the most uncivilised way of travelling since the coffin ships.

So the new line is probably a good idea: create quite a few jobs, emit a lot less carbon at a cost of just 34bn. Although any one who believes it would actually come in at that price is living in la-la land. Nothing to do with railways ever comes in either on time or at budgeted cost.

But it will require a monumental effort to make it happen. This is because the other aspect of the development of the line to the Channel Tunnel, as many will recall, is what a protracted planning nightmare it was. Nobody wanted it in their backyard and the battles with Kentish protestors went on for years. In a small country like ours, the line will have to go straight to bring any benefit. But we are small and densely-populated. Any attempt to rip a straight line for the Iron Horse through Buckinghamshire – complete with the necessary sound baffles – is likely to result in a second Peasant’s Revolt. And where you build huge new terminals in the centre of London, Birmingham and Manchester is anyone’s guess, despite the property slump.

The French, of course, have an entirely different attitude towards this: most areas actively lobby for new high speed lines, and any objectors get their skulls cracked by the CRS if they kick up too much fuss. And in Morocco the number of Nimbys throwing themselves in front of earth movers as the line advances from Marrakech to Agadir is guaranteed to be small.

In today’s bulletin:

WPP adds to gloom as profits halve
Fiat may buy Vauxhall – as Toyota scales back
Editor’s blog: Watch out for Nimbys on high-speed track
Millions delay retirement as pensions nose-dive
Coffee eases strain as recession lengthens daily grind

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    What you forgot to say about the proposed high speed rail link through Kent, was that it looked good on paper; i.e. an old map. However, no-one actually walked the proposed route before publishing it. Once the “nimbys” kicked off, it was realised that two major housing estates had been built since the map was published, and the proposed route was going through houses, not just back yards.
    Can’t we just by-pass Birmingham. No-one wants to go there! (Only joking, roight!)