BBC BLOGS - Ethical Man blog
« Previous | Main | Next »

An awayday with Hezza and Prezza

Justin Rowlatt | 13:57 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The last few weeks before a General Election is an inauspicious time to launch any new policy let alone one that will cost billions, take decades to deliver and which will only succeed if cross party agreement can be secured.

Yet that's exactly what Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has done.

Lord Adonis wants to build high speed railway lines right up the spine of Britain, linking the country's major cities and punching through some of the most beautiful areas in Britain.

The White Paper detailing the route will be published next month and to symbolise the political consensus he hopes to secure for the project he invited Newsnight on an exclusive tour of Britian's only existing high speed line with two very unlikely fellow travellers - battle-scarred political opponents Lord Heseltine and John Prescott.

We joined Hezza and Prezza on a day trip along what the government now calls High Speed 1 - that's the channel tunnel rail link to you and me.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

The 68 miles (109km) of high speed railway between London and Dover seem very modest when compared to the 3,600 miles of high-speed line in operation in Europe, but they would never have been built without the interventions of both veteran politicians.

Despite their ideological divisions (and the fact that Mr Prescott opposed the building of the channel tunnel) both men were instrumental in the construction of the channel tunnel rail link.

As Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine championed the route out through east London, while Mr Prescott was instrumental in saving the route from bankruptcy in the late 90s.

Now together they are supporting Lord Adonis' plan to bring Britain into the high speed railway age with a network the government is calling High Speed 2.

The high speed network he plans would slash journey times to Britain's major cities. Once complete you would be able to zip from London to Birmingham in just 45 minutes, to Manchester in one hour and 20 minutes and up to Scotland in less than three hours. Leeds would take an one hour and 25 minutes and you would be in Newcastle in two hours flat.

The big challenge will be maintaining a political consensus on the issue. Just look at how attempts to get cross party agreement on long-term care for the elderly degenerated into a political bun-fight last week.

Indeed momentum on High Speed 2 might be maintained by Lord Adonis himself.

There is a rumour in Westminster that the Tories are considering offering Labour's transport secretary the same portfolio if they win the election.

Lord Adonis told me he would not do that, but as our train sped back towards Stratford, Lord Heseltine suggested to Mr Prescott with a laugh and nudge that they might take the brief on together and see the project through.

That is unlikely ever to happen, but it will need a similarly visionary cross party initiative if Lord Adonis' grand vision for Britain's railways is to be rolled out across the country.

Watch the full report on Newsnight, Wednesday 17 February 2010.


  • Comment number 1.

    I must say I was very interested in watching this article on the High Speed 2 Railway. Was so disappointed that it was not a serious but, a satirical one. We had two political dinosaurs Prescott, Heseltine and Lord Adonis discussing possibilities of High Speed 2. How proud is Lord Adonis on completing High Speed 1 all 68 miles of it its amazing! He should electrocute himself from one of the many overhead electrical contacts along our railway network. Does he have no shame at all considering we gave the world steam engines, tilting trains and so much more and yet he's proud we've got 68 miles of high speed railway!! This country of ours once a proud nation is now a joke around the world. We have politicians who can't lead anymore, who are chasing every sound-bite out there. I don't want to spend anymore time on this.....

  • Comment number 2.

    My MP has today emailed to let me know that a new bus route (324) that both he and I have been campaigning for about twenty years is planned to start "in the autumn".

    There is no money now for the new buses and I do not foresee that there will be any chance of money "in the autumn".

    In both cases (the high speed rail costing billions, and the new bus route costing 25 pence) nothing will come of it as we are broke - these initiatives are electoral puff!

  • Comment number 3.

    Hmmm.. the high speed train network is a great piece of technology - but it should be for that price. In fact it (faster trains) seems to be a total waste for so much money.

    Maybe we could use the same money for something a little more imaginative - say like a full manned space program with reusable orbiters like the Shuttle but with todays technology.
    Or on green solutions -
    It would be enough to fully fund a fusion research program that could completely solve the future energy problem. (timespans down to 10 years instead of 50)
    Rebuild/fund our nuclear industry and other green energy..
    Fund research into artificial biomes and other technologies that could actually deal with climate change and ecological disaster when it happens.

    There are plenty of other projects and things out there seeking funds. - Literally hundreds of good projects just in space tech alone - that people like NASA have never had the gumption or bravery or foresight to fund. (Take SKYLON, Sea Dragon, nuclear propulsion, or one of the lost projects like the X-33 or DC-X)

    We could put Britain in a technological lead, and most of these projects would create thousands of jobs, - and like all new technology may actually turn a profit. As for not having enough money scrap Trident and replace it with a smaller saner nuclear option that costs 1 or 2 billion instead of 60! (picture 3 Trident submarines each as big as Big Ben) why do we need to destroy Russia anyway?

  • Comment number 4.

    Justin Rowlatt.

    you (the BBC) are substantial part of the problem so neatly identified by Manjit Sandhu in #1: "We have politicians who can't lead anymore, who are chasing every sound-bite out there."

    meanwhile, in the real -- non-Anglo-Saxon -- world:

    China will add around 8,000 miles of high speed track to its network within the next three years:

    and for continental Europe:

  • Comment number 5.

    my guess is that the route will displace some poor and compensate very well the rich that may give up some small parcel of land. The lines are never as the crow flys but usually where the insiders have already purchased land.

  • Comment number 6.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    It would be enough to fully fund a fusion research program that could completely solve the future energy problem. (timespans down to 10 years instead of 50)

  • Comment number 9.

    I think not only China will add around 8,000 miles of high speed track to its network.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.