The railway infrastructure of the United Kingdom is atrocious. Yes, I did just say what politicians should have said years ago. Something needs to be done and FAST. We used to have the best railways in the world; now, even debt-ridden nations such as Spain have better services than us. Why? Because they have domestic high-speed rail services and we, the nation that once had railway services that were the envy of the world, are now laughed at by other developed economies due to our lack of domestic high-speed rail services.
High-speed rail should have been done years ago, shouldn’t it? But it wasn’t, because of the inefficiency of the nationalised railways and then the relentless rush to make a profit by the privatised franchises. The Chiltern Railways service that I am currently travelling on is one of few remaining examples of reasonably-priced, efficient services. I travel frequently on services that are ridiculously over-priced, unclean, and inefficient (London Midland services are frequently understaffed and late, with broken toilets on their Birmingham to Liverpool route).
One of the most important reasons why we need high-speed rail in the UK is to bring our railways up to speed with other members of the European Union; Sweden, Spain, and France amongst others all have high-quality, high-speed, and efficient services. Whereas it takes 8 or 9 hours to travel between Malaga and Madrid by car, the AVE service takes just three hours; I have personal experience of this and the way that passengers are treated on this service is just phenomenal (even better than travelling First Class on the West Coast mainline; the prices are comparable).
High speed rail in the UK would provide a major boost to a British economy, especially as it would really add business potential to thriving cities in the North and Midlands, such as Liverpool, Nottingham, Manchester, and Birmingham, through increased connectivity to London and the South East, the parts of the country that are currently most prosperous. It would create a stronger economy, through the creation of jobs in construction and in the cities that would benefit, and a fairer society, as it would help remedy the existing North-South divide by encouraging the creation of jobs and businesses in lesser economically developed regions and areas.
On to the problem: a few middle-class people in prosperous areas are worried about the effect that high-speed rail will have on the landscape of these prosperous regions. The environmental impact of having high-speed rail in the UK will surely outweigh the fears that these people have, as these services will take people out of their cars and limit the number of flights for airports in the North to London and vice-versa.
The time for action by the government and the rail franchises is now, not in 20 or 30 years time! High-speed rail may not solve all of the problems that we need to tackle to become an ‘aspiration nation’ (better education and other reforms can do that) but it certainly can play a part in creating a stronger economy and fairer society where everyone can get on in life if it is enacted soon. Bring us up to speed with the rest of Western Europe, please Mr Clegg.
Let’s make high-speed rail something that is a symbol of a stronger economy and a fairer society, where everyone can get on in life. Focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us.