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Monday, 17 July 2017

High-Speed Idiocy: and Some Sense

Today will see another series of announcements on the scheme to build a completely new high-speed railway between London and Birmingham, with branches to Manchester and Leeds.

I am one of the many who deplores the London to Birmingham venture. The existing line from Euston takes only 70 minutes, non-stop. The need on that route is for more capacity to take stopping trains that can bring commuters more effectively into London from towns and cities on the route, and on feeder routes to that line. The environmental damage that it will inflict is immense, and the cost will be added to the effective national debt [from Britain to aliens, largely Chinese state-owned enterprises] even though it is to be wrapped up as corporate lending. That borrowing will have to be paid for: so if British people decide they cannot afford the prices that will be slapped onto tickets to travel on HS2, the cost of the daft first-stage enterprise will either be offloaded onto the prices of rail tickets nationwide, or onto taxes.

The so-say second stage: or, at least, investment in the improvement of main rail routes for travel across the north midlands and the south of northern England, is absolutely essential. Direct trains from Sheffield to London have been improved, and thus times on the route via Chesterfield, Derby and Leicester, with a sideline to Nottingham, are acceptable. The fast trains on the west-coast mainline that bypass Birmingham on the way to Edinburgh and Glasgow do not serve any major city in northern England: and they are slowed down by stopping at some selection from the list of Crewe, Warrington, Wigan, Preston, Lancaster and Carlisle. The history of railway company formation, and the consequential construction of lines, means that there are various cities and towns to be served in Yorkshire, causing there to be barely-adequate services to York, Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Halifax, Huddersfield and Hull from the metropolis: only after Northallerton is there a clear principal route via Darlington, Durham, Newcastle and the north: and this all leaves Sunderland and Middlesborough at the edges of the map. Huge expenditure is needed on that infrastructure to bring it up to the level that is common on the European continent. Half a century has been spent closing railways and parts of routes and despoiling the railways of the land that could have been sold to provide the cash to fund updating of the system. While the Osbornian HS2N plan may not be feasible, the investment is necessary: and it should come from a state-led infrastructure pool to which crowd-funding from the British people should be added. It is not necessary to add to the public external debt of the nation to improve this infrastructure: the state should lead, the people can follow, and the spending that will be generated by the construction work and then the operation of the lines will help to revive the economy. It is necessary to build not just 'strategic' main lines, but the ensure that all the 'bypassed' towns - even Darwen and Accrington - are effectively linked in to the new system.

Before one gets too depressed at the present state of the British railways, one should look at the home of capitalism, the United States of America: and at its financial capital, New York. There the railways are in a state of extreme dereliction: with collapsing bridges, five-mile-an-hour speed limits, frequent derailments at the major stations and [literally] century-old wiring providing power to some routes. President Trump trumpeted his intention to change all this, with massive investment in infrastructure, including in his home city: but so far he has cut down on the Obama-era commitment of federal investment.

Thought must be given to the effects of economic thinking, both in the neo-Keynesian era and in the more recent period when 'rational markets' theory has predominated, on the real structure and infrastructure of human life in the urban environment. It is Economics that got us down into this mess: economic dogma will not help us out of it.


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