Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cars and Trains - HS2

The wave of criticism of the proposed new High Speed 2 railway's proposed first stage  from London to Birmingham is a typical British response to any proposed new railway  project and really mirrors the outcry against steam driven railways in England from 1820 onwards. Initially the project appeared to have cross party political support although recently the Labour Party has back stepped somewhat, possibly trying as political parties tend to do more and more these days, to follow rather than lead public sentiment.

A week or two back many of the main roads in Wimbledon were closed for the day for the Olympic anniversary 100 mile cycle race (Worple Road near the maytrees' house was at mile 90 of the race track). The silence was wonderful. Many neighbours came out to chat and watch the cyclists; champagne  tea and conversation flowed.  I was even persuaded by a friend who I chanced to meet during the cycling races, to cycle with him a week or two later, the 70 odd miles to Shoreham by Sea, on all of which see earlier blog posts. However a relevant point about that experience is that some of  the silence and conviviality that day arose from the banning of motor vehicles and it became clear that a huge volume of  noise and pollution in peoples' lives arises from high volume motor traffic, much  of which probably does not originate locally.

A few  weeks ago Mrs maytrees and I took a few days off and traveled to the Lake District in Cumbria Northwest England. We went by train leaving London at about 11am on a Thursday morning. The mainline train was packed. As it happens the local branch line from Oxenholme to Windermere was also crowded and the same crowds prevailed on the return journey. Interestingly an American teacher who was traveling back expressed her pleasure at the trip but sadness at the difficulty in finding  professional teaching work in the USA at present resulting in her teaching in Guatamala. For ourselves the stay in the Lake District  was a great success but I was saddened by the huge volume of motor traffic everywhere. Local authorities had not even apparently troubled to do what the Council at St Ives Cornwall has done for years namely erect a huge car park out of town with a walk or 50p bus ride down to the largely traffic free seaside town below.

The increasing campaign against the new HS2 railway makes no sense unless the motor car is to continue to be given precedence over  public transport and even then many more new roads and attendant facilities will still have to be built somewhere. Often people complain that the absence of public transport in the country and outside London means that the car is essential. The partial truth of this complaint needs to be viewed not only  in the context of the uproar whenever the construction of a new railway is proposed but also the outrage that is expressed whenever petrol prices are scheduled for increased taxation. More often than not the outrage at the increase in petrol tax results in the tax hike being reduced or even abandoned. Rail fare increases on the other hand cause moans but are rarely if ever cancelled. Perhaps next time, the increase in petrol tax should be coupled with promises to direct some of the cash generated towards improving local public transport services.

More to the point is the direction transport provision  and facilities in the UK is heading.

 The nation appears to have used much of the North Sea Oil windfall  with little more than miles driven to show for it. Fracking for new gas is causing a 'not in my backyard' reaction,  the cost of importing oil and gas is huge and unlikely to become more manageable anytime soon and  complaints about unsightly wind farms are on the increase.

 In my view the way forward for the remainder of C21 and beyond particularly bearing in mind the probable  increase in population numbers must be geared to the expansion of public transport. Sure building new railways is bound to cause some damage but the damage already being inflicted by the huge number of cars covers a far wider area is more insideous and affects far more people. If those complaining about HS2 now win the argument, then a consequence will have to be the building of many more roads and motorways which will hurt not only the back yards of the affected neighbours but also through the noise  pollution and balance of payments,  everyone one else in this nation.

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