Recently, President Obama announced the first round of funding to get high-speed rail developed here in the United States. The total investment came to about $8 billion, spread out across the country from the Northeast to California. It is really nothing but a drop in the bucket when you tally the total required investment; California’s proposed high-speed rail alone could cost $40 billion or more.
Over in the UK though, the government has proposed to drop a whooping £30 Billion (about $45 billion US) into developing high-speed rail across the country. And if anyplace needs high-speed rail, it is definitely the UK.
My cousin and I visited the UK during the summer of 2008 to go see my former roommate from college when gasoline prices were peaking. Many places were selling fuel for between $8 and $10 a gallon (I needed my roommate to do the conversion for me since they sell it by the liter). This meant bus passes were far more expensive than train tickets at the time, so on our way back to London, we opted to take a train. That was almost a disaster.
First off, the prices were cheaper, but just barely. There were supposed to be three stops on our ride home with us switching trains at the first stop. Unfortunately, that train never showed up. Instead we had to wait around an extra hour for the next scheduled train. That would have been fine, except that this train was crammed with passengers that the absent train was supposed to pick up, in addition to its regular road. We spent the next three hours crammed into the connecting tunnel between cars. I read War & Peace. My cousin just complained.
That is my one and only experience with trains in the UK, but apparently it isn’t unheard of. Trains in the UK have a reputation for being late, overpriced, and overcrowded, and it is only supposed to get worse. Passengers on trains are expected to triple by 2020, and the current network is woefully out of date. The the £30 Billion investment should go a long way to alleviating these problems. The plan is to build a high speed rail that would allow travel between London and Birmingham — about 90 miles apart — in just 45 minutes. The plan was proposed by Transportation Secretary Lord Adonis (awesome name, sounds very regal), who says the train could reach speeds as fast as 250 mph. Now THAT is high speed!
The project is not without its detractors; some people feel the rail line will spoil otherwise beautiful scenic areas as well as force 440 homes to be demolished along the route. Then there is the price tag. $45 billion is a lot of scratch, and construction wouldn’t even begin until 2017. Still, England is a small country and would benefit enormously from a well-planned high-speed railway. Plus, drivers wouldn’t have to contend with the curtain of speed cameras blanketing the country and the narrow, crowded motorways. Go UK!