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Daily View: High-speed rail plans

Clare Spencer | 09:45 UK time, Friday, 12 March 2010

Model of new trainThe government is recommending a new high-speed rail network, featuring 250mph trains on new line between London and Birmingham with a future extension to northern England and Scotland. Commentators look at various questions raised.

The Guardian editorial is supporting the plans:

"[O]nly a visionary or a fool would stand up in parliament and announce plans for a £30bn, 330-mile, 225mph rail line, whose construction would not even begin until 2017, and whose completion will take much more than a decade. Yet that is what Andrew Adonis, the transport minister, did yesterday, and he deserves much congratulation for it."

Conversely, Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph hopes the proposals fade away:

"It is also the ultimate expression of the political classes' fatal preference for the flashy showpiece over the dull grind of improving the quotidian things that matter. It is the product of the same mentality that has given us thousands of shiny new school buildings - but paid much less attention to the quality of teaching."

The Times editorial says the big question is the route:

"The real question posed by a new high-speed rail network is more fundamental than just cost and timing. Quite simply, where do we want the centres of British commerce to be in the 21st century? London, obviously, will always be central. But which cities should follow after that?"

Rod Liddle in the Spectator asks how the rail line would affect the spread of the population:

"My suspicion is that the line will not remotely redress the north-south imbalance; instead it will amount to the further expansion of the south east, which as a political entity now well exceeds its geographical definition. Vast swathes of attractive rural Warwickshire will now become easily, if expensively, commutable from London; this will suit those now living in the south east and looking for an agreeable bolt-hole, rather more than it will suit those in the midlands, where the wages are lower."

Stephen Bayley in the Times hopes the service will bring back the glory days of rail travel:

"Can the new high-speed stations recapture any of the romance so calamitously lost by the pudding-faced suits who ran the old BR? Not if, like the airports, they are run as shopping malls. Nearly 200 years ago railways changed attitudes to time and space: there is a metaphysics of timetabling. And they changed the shape and style of cities with brave and original architecture. That's the opportunity again."

The Telegraph editorial argues that cost should not put off ambition:

"In straitened times, how can the nation afford the £30 billion eventually to be invested in this project? Yet Britain cannot simply stand still, paralysed by indebtedness. We need to show we have not lost the ambition exemplified by a national project such as this."

The Independent's leading article looks at the matter of timing:

"Construction work (and serious spending) would not begin on the new rail line until 2017, by which time it is assumed the present fiscal crisis will be behind us. Yet we should still be pleased that there is a cross-party consensus for this is the sort of long-term transport infrastructure project that governments of all stripes have rejected in the past on expense grounds. This has been a false economy."

Links in full

GuardianGuardian | High-speed rail: All aboard!
TimesStephen Bayley | Times | Fast-speed trains are a chance to revive our stations
TimesTimes | Speed up
TelegraphAndrew Gilligan | Telegraph | We need local services that work
TelegraphTelegraph | Rail: high-speed vision
IndependentIndependent | High-speed rail is the right investment for Britain's future
SpectatorRod Liddle | Spectator | The slow creep of the suburban south-east

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