High speed rail versus ‘Victorian infrastructure’
In his speech to the 2016 Conservative conference, transport secretary Chris Grayling said that HS2 is “about a new, 21st century, Elizabethan era for our railways, not going back to the Victorian one”.
And at the Transport Times HS2 conference on 12 October 2016, he said HS2 is needed “So that in 2033, we no longer have a rail network with a Victorian heart, but a network with an Elizabethan heart, able to deliver everything we expect of a 21st century transport system“.
[Chris Grayling, Transport Times conference, 12 Oct 2016]
A national transport artery as important as the West Coast Main Line still suffers from the need for freight, local and intercity trains to be carried on the same two tracks.
The fast trains catch up with the slow trains and are unable to get past, chug along behind.
So, imagine what Britain in 2033 would look like without HS2.
The forecasters tell us that Britain’s population will have hit 72 million.
Rail journeys will have risen by a further 40%.
And rail freight will have doubled once more.
Yet in that future without HS2 we’d still be relying on a rail network whose central components are in places nearly 200 years old, built to compete with the stagecoach and the horse-drawn canal barge, and for a population almost 5 times smaller.
Mr Grayling’s speeches are good examples of ‘post-factual politics’.
- The West Coast Main Line trunk between London and Rugby has four tracks. So, on its busiest section, the need for ‘freight, local and intercity trains to be carried on the same two tracks’ does not exist.
- The vast majority of Britain’s rail travel takes place on so-called ‘Victorian infrastructure’, and there is no possibility of HS2 ever changing that. In Kent, it appears that around 95% of rail journeys do not involve HS1.
- The problem of ‘fast trains catching up with the slow trains and being unable to get past’ is more of a limitation for the twin-track HS1, than the ‘Victorian’ West Coast Main Line (because of a mismatch between the maximum speeds of domestic HS1 and Eurostar trains). Such freight as exists on HS1 is generally limited to night-time, when no passenger trains run.