Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to Fix... high speed rail

Now that Lord Adonis, the Greek mythical character in charge of British transport policy, has swung his weight behind a high speed train link between London and far-away Birmingham, we can expect work to start any minute, and the new service to be running perfectly by the spring. That's certainly what happened with the wonderful Crossrail project, without which London would have seized up years ago.

But a big problem remains: Where is the line going to go?

I don't think there's much disagreement about the overall answer to this question. Clearly, the most logical place to put the line is on the ground. There's a huge amount of ground stretching between the two cities, and all we need to do is find a continuous, narrow strip of it that doesn't have any houses on it.

However, there's a much better way – a simple solution which is, as temporarily Heathrovian author Alain de Botton might say, “ruddy brilliant”. Instead of finding a new route for the track to be built on, the line's builders can simply lay the rails on the fast lanes of the M40 motorway. Anyone who can prove that they habitually drive along the fast lane at speeds above 90 mph will be offered discount tickets on the new train service, and their cars will be taken away and crushed. This will solve the road traffic capacity issue, while at the same time demonstrating the government's ability to solve problems through sensitive negotiation.

Having studied the route of the M40, I will acknowledge that it does have quite a few curvy bits, and that the high-speediness of the new service may well be compromised in some sections. There's one particularly vicious curve that's almost a right angle, where most drivers need to open their eyes and/or stop eating for at least two minutes as they struggle to keep the car more or less on the tarmac. This sudden diversion in the road was designed to protect some butterflies who would otherwise have been crushed, but it's quite possible that the butterflies have since flown away, meaning that this stretch could now be straightened.

Journey times between London and Birmingham may be reduced by bends in the line, but the delays can be countered by removing “station stops”. Passengers will be treated like mail freight: tossed into large hoppers hanging over the sides of bridges. No one really wants to go to places like Banbury or Bicester anyway, as they're full of lorries, so that will help.

The service can be further improved by removing Shakespeare tourists, who would otherwise need to be thrown out as the train passes Warwick. Given the huge investment made at Stratford station in east London – there are now three hundred platforms, direct links to every European capital and signs in Catalan – it makes sense to shift the Shakespeare industry down there. It's much nearer the Globe, and Harrods.

Finally, the big kitsch statue that greets international travellers at St Pancras sets the keynote for the kind of public art we'll want to see associated with the new high speed line. St Pancras has a couple kissing, so it would be fitting if Birmingham New Street was adorned with a couple breaking up. The man could be throwing the Simply Red CDs at the woman, for example. And the whole thing could be made of leaves.


Nick Tann said...

I've though that a train line running the length of the M3 down the central reservation would be a good idea.
Or tram..

Paul said...

A canal down the centre of the M3 would be groovy.

Nick Tann said...

Ooooo, now we're talking