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Monday, September 21, 2009


There has been reporting of a call for Britain to build a high speed train connecting from London to Glasgow & Edinburgh.
A £34bn high-speed rail network planned from London to Scotland should connect to similar lines already in Europe, city officials have said.

Leaders from 11 UK cities have backed plans which would cut journey times.

They say London to Manchester journey times could come down to one hour 13 minutes and London to Scotland trips could be made in under three hours...
Over 60 years, it is estimated that the line could save 30 million tonnes (29.5m tons) of CO2 worth £3.2bn by diverting passengers from air travel to rail.

Mr Leese, who is chairman of the high-speed campaign, warned: "We cannot continue to grow the UK's economy and compete on a global stage without a high-speed rail network in the UK.

"There are 3,480 miles of high speed railway lines in mainland Europe with a further 2,160 miles under construction and 5,280 miles planned for the future.

"In Britain, despite inventing the world's first passenger railway we only have 68 miles (the Channel Tunnel High Speed One link) in operation."

The government has already set up an organisation, High Speed Two, which will study the possibility of a north-south high-speed line. Network Rail has outlined its high-speed vision for the future, with 200mph (322km/h) trains.

Politicians from across the major parties have welcomed the campaign.
As might be expected, in a country where "journalism" consists of rewriting the press releases of government approved organisations, the reporting is very light in answering if it is financially viable or, assuming it isn't, who gets to pay for it! Two guesses on each. Personally I think that it is not going to be as fast as air beyond Manchester, while still being far more expensive & that for any journey that isn't city centre to city centre, it is going to be useless.
The fact is that the basic problem with public transport, while we all love it, is that it only gets you to one place. If you go to any city, I don't care if it's Sydney or Portland or Perth or Paris, what you will find is public transport gets you to the core but is absolutely useless and uncompetitive in terms of getting you around the urban area otherwise.
I would like to see money being spent on fully automating trains to make them driverless single carriage units since that would considerably reduce costs, increase capacity, improve flexibility &cut the very considerable time waiting. And it would require little structural change, just new computerisation & thus be relatively cheap.

However the killer for this scheme, which appears to stop it being competitive & thus means our politicians want to step in, must be cost. £34 billion is a lot of money. Lets see how other nation's high speed rail compare:

Korea £10.9 bullion ($18bn) 5 times the original cost given while passenger numbers have, eventually risen to nearly half what was initially promised. About 300 m?

Taiwan £9 billion ($15 bn), 208 miles

Germany £2 billion (4.5bn deutschmark), 62 m (99km)

Japan 1540 m (2459 km), £189 billion (Y28 trillion) but this was in 1964 & the rail network recently sold for Y9.2 trillion (£62 bn)

France £3.2 bn (E3.5), 265 m (425km)

So taking the average of these, excluding Japan in 1964, we get an average cost per mile of £31 million per mile.

In Britain this scheme is costed at £68 million per mile. While this is not as bad a price differential in Britain as some we gave seen it is also the promised not final price & if the Taiwanese price rose five fold it would be unwise to promise ours won't.

We should make a priority of getting rid of the regulatory culture & the "preferred bidder" system here before starting on anything like this. That would do infinitely more to "grow the UK's economy and compete on a global stage". Who knows - at a world average price of £15.5 billion it might even start to make economic sense?

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