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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Concorde on Rails : Thankyou UK taxpayers

Amidst the daily grind of political party soundbites, half truths and outright lies besetting the country through wintry weeks of electioneering - intentions to press ahead with the High Speed Train project are gaining traction in the media (no puns here).

Public disquiet over the monumental sums being thrown at the apparent urgent need to whisk travellers up and down the country (well actually between Crewe and London in the first instance) caused the Government to call time out on the project just before things got hot and heavy in Parliament. This resulted in a report - apparently to be published imminently which will outline the case for continuing on with throwing taxpayers money at the HS2 scheme, or in fact pulling the plug entirely.

London's own spectacularly expensive new east west rail link known as 'Crossrail' and tactfully officially labelled the 'Elizabeth Line' by PR smarties in the capital - is still delayed further and managing to extort even more oodles of cash to assure completion way beyond officially sanctioned budgets predicted by the purveyors of large capital infrastructure projects. But so much capital has been expended on this scheme - logical as it is for improving public transit across London - that it is inevitable that the Treasury will sign off on yet another fat check to assure completion in the coming year or two.

The HS2 scheme is however far more questionable in terms of taxpayers money being ladelled out to contractors, advisors, train builders and umpteen legal firms - in order to gain an hour or less on already fast journey times to and from London for a small number of beneficiaries minded to pay what are likely to be the same sort of premium fares one found on the Concorde's London to New York fashionable shuttle for the moneyed and elite.

As things stand London is attainable by rail in just a couple of hours from major northern cities - and a few minutes more on less favoured trains. I well recall the journey from Blackpool Central behind a named steam locomotive taking around 5 hours with extended stop at Crewe on many journeys. Now one can connect at Preston from Blackpool North and be arriving at Euston Station in just over two hours with minimal stops and not even slowing down at Crewe.

Apparently this is not good enough, Now its deemed necessary to shave a few minutes more off these north south 'expresses' with the public purse handing over vast sums of cash - enough to build a new cross Pennine rail link connecting Hull to Liverpool among other badly needed transport improvements across the north of England. Of course its the private sector which benefits most of all and is first in line for Government subsidies. Our benighted railway system is in private hands through franchise holders, many foreign owned, running the trains, leasing the rolling stock to the train operators, and trimming the former public property assets as far as possible around railway stations and terminals to create ever more retail and commercial space.

The odds are on HS2 bonanza continuing and like Concorde ending up absorbing the public purse for huge amounts of capital to pursue questionable benefits few of us are ever likely to utilise. Don't get me wrong I have nothing against trains or rail investment. But in the current malaise this country is going through with (mostly) cackhanded politicians and a broken system of government - the insertion of checks and balances on strategic decisions costing the Treasury and Exchequer vast amounts of capital commitment over decades is now more than ever highly desirable.

As is rebalancing this country's economy to reflect decades of tilted investment in London and the Home Counties in particular contrasting with dimunition of public funding assigned north of Watford (or is it Milton Keynes?). The London centric predominance of decision making and influence at all levels has skewed the nation's balance to sustained detriment of the Midlands and the north of England. Whereas Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are provided with self governing administrative bodies, England has been kept prisoner from Westminster with hand me downs and platitudes, not to mention indulgence of patronising elites in all professions.

Transferring England's capital and administrative fulcrum to say - York might not be a bad start - or moving Parliament every decade to a new (and temporary) setting accompanied by the vast tail of camp followers living off the public purse. Regional economies would be beneficiaries and augment the games played out in what has become an alien metropolis divorced from reality of the country at large. Capitals have been known to move and adapt. Germany saw its capital move from Bonn to Berlin. Australia created Canberra. Brazil created Brazilia. Scotland now has a de facto capital in Edinburgh. Wales is reasserting its national identity in Cardiff; whilst Northern Ireland of course established its semi autonomous parliament in Belfast and Slovakia took Bratislava as its capital when it broke away from the Czechoslovakia state. England's population of 50 million plus is quite evidently getting a raw deal out of London and the Home Counties syndrome. The majority of those 50 million having to fight top down government power structures and rightly aggrieved by the most recent shenanigans underway in the Westminster Parliament.

High Speed Rail 2 is yet another London based sop to cousins 'up north'. As is Heathrow expansion configured to benefit even further the tentacles of financial and political influence exerted from the small number of postcodes epitomising power and control over the nation. The UK's frozen in time urban transport policies whereby just a handful of light rail lines have been built through the past two decades - in comparison to the ever frequent opening and capital investment across the Channel in France, Holland, Germany, Spain, Portugal and even Luxembourg! . Such a pitiful record for a country claiming to be one of the world's leading economic powers. Please pull the other leg.

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