Monday, 28 February 2011

123. High speed trains in the UK

28th February 2011. Whilst firing up my PC this morning I couldn't help but notice a BBC headline on the Google page that made my heart sink. It said: "Views sought on high-speed rail.." Aaaaagghh!

In case you're in any doubt, that little phrase marks the end of any hopes we might have had for a high speed rail service in the UK similar to the ones that have been built and are still being built across Europe. I've mentioned this project/aspiration/dead duck (select the one you want) before here and this latest pronouncement by the British government just confirms my worst fears. And here was I thinking that the purpose of government was to govern. They've been elected so get on with it! And coalition governments have exactly the same powers as the rest.

It's interesting to see how the idea of high speed rail travel is being sold to the electorate. Instead of declaring that they wish to build a high speed rail network that would serve the needs of the major UK population centres and would link up with the European high speed rail network, we are told that the government wishes to spend £17bn to save "around half an hour" from the journey time between London & Birmingham*. You couldn't make it up.

The real message should have been: Birmingham to say, Paris by high speed train in 3 hours, Manchester to Paris in 3½ hours or Glasgow to Paris in 4½ hours. Now doesn't that sound a lot more interesting? The problem is that the Home Counties-based civil servants (Sir Humphrey Applebys to a man) already have their high speed rail link to the Continent - and therefore they have absolutely no intention of spending millions to afford the same convenience to the proles who live north of Watford.. (Here be dragons etc)  

If you really wish to kill a project stone dead, then you start (or, you could argue, continue) an endless round of consultations with pressure groups, NIMBYs, those with bees in their bonnets and all the rest of the Luddite tree-huggers. This inaction posing as activity enables the Minister concerned to stand up in Parliament and drone on and on that progress is being made when, in reality, it's only the legions of transport advisers who are getting fat on the consultancy contracts - at our expense. Meanwhile, nothing will happen. And that's good news to those parsimonious skinflints at HM Treasury.   

And for all you lovers of compromise, the BBC link in the first para above provides the solution that will soon be staring at you all in the face: "Opponents argue that the £17bn scheme will be a waste of money and that updating the existing West Coast mainline would be a better investment."* (cue howls of derisive laughter!) Ah yes, the good old British compromise rides to the rescue. And don't, for one minute, believe that shortage of money is the real reason for the lack of action - only this weekend I read that we've been providing aid to Russia, China (yes, China!) and India among others. Apparently, the British government gave £170m in aid to China since 2005. Madness. 

Now breathe deeply and r e l a x.. (Nurse will be along shortly)

* Fans of "Yes Minister" will recognise these two tactics as worthy of Sir Humphrey Appleby at his best. I love this quote: the unflappable symbol of a machine that has no gears, only brakes. Sound familiar?

This is something I found on YouTube.. reminded me of dawns I'd seen at airfields the world over:

And to finish up with, another nice sequence:

I'm reminded of the old story of the pretty girl being shown around the flight deck of an RAF transport aircraft during a long haul flight..

The four man flight deck crew perk up when she comes in..
She looks in awe at all the switches and dials for a few moments before asking innocently, "And what do all these knobs do?"

Quick as a flash, her escort replies, "Drink coffee mainly.."

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