Sunday, 28 October 2012

The White elephant of Highspeed rail travel?

With the proposition of the new HUB airport still grabbing all the media attention and every political sinew within the Medway towns it is time to look at one of the best alternatives - HS2.

One of the major problems with airport capacity is the amount of short range internal flights such as Eastleigh ( ok, Southampton airport) to say Newcastle turning a five and a half hour train journey into an hour and twenty minute flight with check in and check out- you don't even need to drag your luggage up and down escalators or across London on the Tube!
There's also the cost with a single train fare on that journey costing £170.50 for a single against the cheapest non-stop Flybe flight of £77 one way!

Just for a comparison, if you wanted to go from Paris to Berlin, a journey of 651miles (as opposed to the 343miles of Southampton to Newcastle) costs £169s (€211) and takes eight hours twenty minutes including a change at Mannheim or Frankfurt am main depending on your route.

So obviously those of us with access to an airport are more likely to fly quickly and cheaply rather than battle with the UK's ageing rail network...

Hang on, hold the phone... What about HIgh Speed travel?

Well, that's something different. Like in the case of our European neighbours it is more than possible. The construction of new lines such as the HS1 Ebbsfleet to St Pancras, from that terminal to a HUB in Birmingham where it could springboard out or even do it from London to Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester and even Edinburgh and drastically reduce journey time.

Imagine a five hour journey from London to Edinburgh. You wouldn't lose a whole day travelling at each end of your holiday.

Yes, countryside will be spoilt by the construction. I remember the campaigns to oppose the Eurostar route through Boxley valley. However the damage isn't that bad (though I'm sure some residents would not agree!) and it is only a thin sliver of land compared to the massive swathe of destruction a new airport, especially in the estuary, would cause. We also know that Rail is a greener form of transport than aircraft.

The big problem will be cost to the commuter. Commuters in Kent were given the RPI+3 formula to help pay for HS1 service by the last Labour government and hence our fares are cripplingly high. Most of us don't even use the bloody thing. Yes it is quick if you want to get into London or want to get a connection for Kings Cross but it if you work in South or central London the time you save you then spend on the tube getting to work at the added expense of the tube and for an HS ticket.

For HS services, indeed for rail in general, operators need to keep prices affordable otherwise they'll turn an exciting, green infrastructural improvement into a great big white elephant.


  1. You are making the common mistake of comparing walk-up train fares with advance-purchase air fares. You must compare like with like. And you don't even seem to have got the train fares right. There is an Off-Peak one-way walk-up train fare from Eastleigh to Newcastle for £140. And I found Advance train fares for that journey as low as £45.

    HS1 could be run more efficiently, with lower fares, if the international trains were allowed also to carry domestic passengers (the way they are throughout mainland Europe). It would also make cross-Channel trains cheaper with a wider variety of services.

    1. To be honest I typed in the journey on the National rail journey planner and the price I quoted was the website's suggested cheapest journey so did no further digging.

      Also, most people will book flights in advance and buy their train fare on the day it's only the more astute who book in advance though granted its more common these days.

      Basically though, I agree. I'm all for HS2 rather than an airport. I just worry it won't be economically run