Everybody loves trains now, but where’s the money coming from?

I remember reading a leader in the Economist a few years ago calling for a revolution in British public transport and calling for investment for high speed trains. I thought this was a brilliant idea – it is a brilliant idea in principle – and everybody wants a piece of it.

Andrew Adonis, who is seen as doing such a good job that the Tories have said they’d like to give him a job too, is championing the government’s commitment to this. Just this morning, Brown announced plans to have a high speed rail link with Amsterdam.

Straight away, the Tories said that they were championing it first, as though high speed rail has only just started to exist.

Why now? Well, it appears to be more environmentally friendly than cars, makes a party look ambitious and forward thinking, and doesn’t draw the same hostility that investing in new roads does.

But it does rather raise the question why hasn’t anyone seriously been proposing this earlier? Even building Britain’s part of the Channel Tunnel infrastructure took years longer than it did for the French, partly because of our planning laws. Crossrail’s been trying to get done since the ’70s, and then was proposed again in the ’90s, but was dropped agin. Suddenly the Tories think trains can alieviate the need for a third runway at Heathrow, this new found zeal for rail travel doesn’t fit in with either party’s previous priorities.

Perhaps this is because railways are very expensive to maintain and require constant investment. Politicians are united on the need for spending cuts just as they are on the marvels of high speed rail – how will that play out I wonder? Last time around, Britain’s rail future bit the dust, and if we choose train travel what else will have to give?


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