Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A Future Non Flying Scotsman

Whatever you think about the climate change debate, and I think my views on the subject should be pretty well known to you by now, it is hard to argue that railways, especially European and Japanese style high speed railways should not be a major part of our transport infrastructure. Going back to the Beeching cuts of the 1960s which seemed sensible at the time, Britain has had a terrible record in investing in a form of transport which we invented and pioneered. We were still using steam long after Europe had switched to diesel and electrification and our sole high speed line to date is the only recently completed line linking London to the Channel Tunnel.

Lord Adonis will today receive a report from a commission looking into a high speed line linking London with the major cities of the north, a line which will cost billions but will ultimately enhance our infrastructure and competitiveness and reduce the need for the misery of flying over the comparatively short distances required for domestic journeys. London to Birmingham, a journey only currently possible by road or rail, could be completed in less than an hour. London to Edinburgh in just two hours forty minutes, a time comparable or better than air once commuting to airports and going through baggage and security checks is factored in.

The channel link has been a huge success. The tunnel now takes nearly three quarters of all traffic to the continent, notwithstanding last week's debacle. A new and better railway linking our major cities would be seized with enthusiasm by the British public, who would use railways far more if they were more competitively priced and there were more capacity. I enjoy travelling between Birmingham and London already on the current, much slower, West Coast Mainline. A new service as proposed is long overdue and precisely what the country needs.

Those of us who question the AGW case are not necessarily against plans such as these. Indeed I warmly welcome the idea and hope it can go forward with all party support. We ought to be finding alternative and more efficient forms of transport. We ought to be finding ways to wean ourselves off fossil fuels or at least to reduce their use. It's the need to do so immediately by carbon trading, massive draconian cuts and building wind turbines I question.

Britain is way behind on this kind of investment and now, thanks to the stupidity and irresponsibility of this prime minister, such schemes will require some tough decisions if they are to be affordable. But this, if it goes ahead, is real investment. Gordon Brown should look hard at it and try to understand the real meaning of the word.

And one further point about Lord Adonis. He is one of the quieter and most undemonstrative ministers in this government, possibly because he is not a career politician. He has just got on with his job, providing good administration and often building consensus with the opposition such as over this scheme. He is a fine example of what good ministers can achieve when they govern for the good of the country and forget about dividing lines and petty party politics. His leader would do well to change the habits of these last twelve years and emulate him. David Cameron ought to persuade him to stay in post and carry on the good work.

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