If I could I would travel on my long distance trips by train. It makes sense: it’s the ideal form of transport, someone else does the driving and I can have a snooze and arrive refreshed at my destination ready for action. I also would not have to drive many, many miles on Britain’s rotten roads, senses alert for the next hair-raising close call from the next idiot driver. I could do this:
But I don’t.
A Brief History Of The Railways
Those of you with very long memories (just a nice way of putting it old-timer) will remember the halcyon days of nationalised railways. Trains went everywhere, mainlining at speed with smoke stacks belching or creeping up rural branch lines to quaint, out-of-the-way places with strange sounding names. It was the perfect form of transport. Sure, the rolling stock was often old, knackered and grubby but it was affordable to use; a genuine public service.
Sadly, it was run by men (it’s always men) who looked backward for inspiration instead of thrusting (can I still use that word?) forward into the future. A fat bloke called Beeching took, rather unfairly as most of it wasn’t his idea, the hit when the railways were brutally scythed as branch line after branch line were closed and overall services decimated. It was the beginning of the end.
The Thatcher Years
With hindsight, we really should have known. This was the period when the State began to absolve itself of the business of actually running the country’s infrastructure. Denationalisation was supposed to be a good deal for the public but as with so many other things this has proved not to be the case.
The railways are ruinously expensive and ticket purchases are complicated and convoluted. There’s a real element of rip-off about the whole business. The casual traveller is set aside because the big bucks are in commuters, poor sods. If you fancy going from middle England to, say, Newquay in Cornwall, you will need to change at least once, probably at Bristol, and get off at Bodmin Parkway.
Bodmin Parkway isn’t even that near Bodmin. Try arriving there at night; it’s a lonely place. You then have to take a long and expensive taxi ride to Newquay or Padstow because if you wait for a bus your holiday will be over before you know it. That is the lot of the casual rail traveller.
The railways are too expensive, too inconvenient and too wearing. That is why we continue to use our convenient, clean cars.
Buses? Ditto all the above.
Will HS2 Make It All Better?
No. It is a vanity transport project dreamed up by, largely, politicians who have since been ignominiously dumped. Certainly it will provide jobs but it will disrupt the lives of the folk in its path for years to come and what for? Will it make life easier for casual train travellers? No. It might speed things up a bit but if you want to get somewhere quicker then simply leave earlier, thus saving a huge and growing sum of money that instead could be spent on improving the train travellers’ lot as a whole.
Banning ICE cars in the short term won’t work. See HERE for a general moan about this latest rushed, ill-thought through scheme. By process of mental erosion and bad press diesel fuel has completely vilified. The game is up for the oil-burners. The ‘authorities’ want us in electric cars, yet Mazda have just announced a new petrol engine that seems to be a real game-changer and could put a serious dent into sales of EVs by being, it is said, cleaner than an electric car over the build and lifetime of the vehicle. We’ll see.
Why It Won’t Work
The answer is simple. People. Most of us, if we’re honest, don’t really know if climate change and all the other dire prophecies are really true, or partially true or a pack of lies. We go along with what we think is right.
There comes a point when the great unwashed public get fed up with being pushed around. Cars, we are told, are the work of Satan and must be banned; but what about all the other and many local and global pollutants? Car manufacturers have bent over backwards to come up with solutions (and fibbed a bit at times too) but they know their business.
Successive governments and certain Mayors try to penalise us with taxes, making it increasingly expensive to own a car yet still we soldier on.
Cars remain vital to us all for all the usual reasons. We need to get to work. It’s really not far very from, say, Swindon to Cirencester. You can drive it in twenty minutes but try getting a bus (about two a day) or a train (none). We need our cars for work and we need them them to take children to school as anyone who has tried to use public transport with kids or pushchairs in tow will tell you.
We need them to make hospital appointments and job interviews on time; we need them to go point to point in a convenient fashion. It is an inconvenient truth that regular folk just get in the way. We are difficult, obtuse and it is becoming harder to convince a highly sceptical public about anything. Politicians are more remote and out of touch than ever.
That’s why grand transport schemes like this won’t work in the end; because they fail to take into account the most important factor – us.