Trains For America

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UK starts to take high-speed rail seriously; suggestions for HSR development instead of Heathrow airport expansion

There’s been quite a bit of high-speed hubbub coming out of Britain lately. Earlier this month we posted about how the government was considering investing in just one HSR line, but it seems that the country has set its sights even higher. Network Rail, the UK’s public-ish owner of the nation’s rail infrastructure, has announced that it is studying FIVE new high-speed routes stretching across the island. From the Financial Times:

The launch of the review highlights the strain put on the UK’s existing railways by traffic growth over the past decade, following the system’s controversial privatisation in the mid to late 1990s. Passenger traffic grew 67 per cent between 1994 and last year, while freight traffic is up about 50 per cent since the mid-1990s.

The routes to be examined are likely to follow roughly a series of existing routes from London: the West Coast Line to Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, Great Western line to Bristol, East Coast line to Edinburgh, Midland line to Sheffield and Chiltern route to Birmingham.

If built, the lines would mark the first new domestic routes in over a century constructed in the country that pioneered the railroad. Britain’s only current HSR line is the Eurostar chunnel train running from London to Paris. In investing in its own high-speed lines, the UK is playing catchup to European neighbors such as France and Spain.

The British Rail and Maritime Transport Union has also urged that the government to consider high-speed rail lines as an alternative to planned expansion at London’s Heathrow airport:

The report for the RMT says over a third of flights from Heathrow are short-haul, more than 20 per cent go to destinations already served by a viable rail alternative, and one in five more are to places where rail is a potential alternative.

It also claims where high-speed rail links have been opened there has been a significant switch from air to rail, and warns the UK is in danger of being left behind as countries like Spain benefit from rail investment.

News such as this not only serves to indicate the the forward thinking train policies of the British, but also highlights America’s increasing backwardness when it comes to passenger rail investment. How are we going to cope with the inevitable bursting of the cheap flights bubble? The high prospect of HR 6003 passing into law has been a necessary shot in the arm for our own rail projects, but we still don’t have a national plan to modernize our infrastructure. The Heathrow study says that Britain is in danger of being left behind when it comes to high-speed trains; what does that say about America?

Image credit: The BBC


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December 2022