High-speed rail is a staple of European and Asian transport networks, and has been for decades. But Britain has never managed to deliver the service beyond St. Pancras International and the Channel Tunnel railway.
Excuses abound, but transport gurus frequently point to the elevated cost of upgrading Britain’s rails to handle high-velocity trains – it could cost billions and still run at a loss.
On the 11th March, Lord Adonis, the current transport secretary, announced plans to revolutionise railways with a new stretch of track through the Chilterns linking London to the West Midlands.
The project, which will eat around £16bn of the government’s yearly budget, will introduce 250mph trains to Britain’s rail network, and dramatically reduce travel times between Heathrow and Birmingham Airport.
Whether the plan goes ahead or not is dependant on overall public opinion, but construction is not expected to begin until 2017. The train will run from Euston in London, to Curzon Street in Birmingham. Stations for Heathrow and Birmingham airports will also be incorporated into the line.
However, critics believe that the project is doomed to failure. Financial obstacles aside, the Chiltern Hills in south-east England could be irreparably damaged by construction crews, creating a ‘blight corridor’ through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Opponents are also concerned that the new railway is a clandestine attempt to improve access to airports, rather than a true upgrade of Britain’s ancient railway system.
The high-speed line may also be extended to serve Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool in the distant future. Lord Adonis claims that 10,000 jobs will be created by the project.