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Saturday, July 29, 2006


There has been a certain amount of discussion recently on the suggestion that a high speed rail link (bullet train or maglev) be built between these cities to generally turn the area into a single economic unit & stimulate the economy.

As somebody who is generally enthusiastic about high tech I might be expected to favour it but I strongly don't.

The reason is simple. It makes no economic sense & for something that is justified as being good for the economy this is a serious fault.

The cost of this is generally agreed to be around £3 billion, which amounts to over £1,000 per citizen of Glasgow & Edinburgh. I have been unable to find figures for the passenger numbers for this line but the whole of Scotland amounts to 65.3 million journeys a year. Assuming that 10% of all of the journeys by the 20% of our population from Glasgow & Edinburgh are on this line we get 1.3 million journeys. Assuming interest rates of 10% on the £3,000 this amounts to a cost of £230 per ticket, excluding running costs.

By comparison the total bus journeys in Scotland are 436 million. I know that bus journeys are generally shorter (& much cheaper) but the comparison with rail is obvious. Equally obvious is that buses only provide a small part of road travel. Thus the effect of a rail link in producing one economic zone will be far less than that of expanding the motorway & linking it directly to the Edinburgh bypass.

The reason why this is even being considered is because:
(A) a number of politicians have been to China & ridden in on their shiny new Maglev & decided that they deserve a similar monument to their own politburo. The Chinese line doesn't make economic sense either.
(B) trains are politically correct & green unlike buses & cars which use up so much of the world's resources (in reality buses use less CO2 & cars about the same per passenger mile because trains weigh an awful lot & travel mainly empty but we are not talking about real but merely metaphorical environmentalism).
(C) you aren't going to find your political representative on a bus. Train is about as low as they go.

The real way to make the rail network useful is to fully automate it. That is something I discussed previously in terms of the Glasgow Underground & will discuss again in regard to Glasgow-Edinburgh & beyond in future.

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