British High Speed Rail Ushers In a New Era of Travel

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London Paddington StationThis post is part of a series on high speed rail across the world. Make sure to read previous posts on the US, Germany, and France.

England has added itself to the growing list of countries redesigning its transportation paradigm to include high speed rail. With the launch of the Javelin line from London to Kent this past December, the British government has ushered in a new era of travel in the British Isles.  The Javelin travels east/west and has cut the rail travel time from along this route from 80 minutes to just over a half hour.

The Javelin is the first British high speed rail passenger service and will soon be part of a much bigger network that will link England’s major urban areas with a service that travels at 220 mph.  An ambitious north-south corridor is planned that will run from London and end in Edinburgh Scotland.  “It will radically modernise our transport infrastructure and bring about a significant shift of traffic from car and the plane to the train, while potentially transforming the geography of our country as our cities are bought closer together,” proclaims UK Transportation Minister Lord Adonis.

Britain changing its transport paradigm has special ramifications for the US, because both countries have similar systems now and the same special interests that hinder quality passenger rail growth.  As the UK reinvents its transportation system, it will be interesting to see if the US will follow the lead and pick up the pace to match the growth of its closest international ally or continue to drag its feet on rail infrastructure.

Yanks and Brits have long shared a love affair with the car.  This cultural affinity to the automobile and access to cheap oil gave rise to a transportation that is rather unique in comparison to the rest of the world.  The 20th century was all about asphalt in the UK and the US.  British cars were James Bond cool as Aston Martins, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces ruled the road whether they were cruising through London or zipping through the English countryside.

People in both countries may still love cars and they will certainly remain a major piece of the transportation puzzle, but the days of cheap oil are gone.  With this in mind, the UK government has pledged £34 ($55) Billion for development of its high speed rail network. Less energy-intensive transport makes sense for Britain economically.  As a member of the European Union, it is getting a nudging from its continental neighbors to reduce carbon emissions.  High speed passenger rail along the heavily populated north/south corridor (the travel time from London to Manchester is slated at 80 minutes) would play a role in reducing pollution through car exhaust.

The high speed breakthrough has happened in the UK before the US due to the fact that the special interests are weaker in Britain that in America.  Southwest Airlines can block high speed trains in Texas while Ryanair can only fume that developing fast trains is “insane”.  The American car industry wields far more government than its British counterpart, despite its decline.  There lies the difference at the moment.  When the special interests are mitigated, as they have been in England, high speed rail will come to the colonies.

[photo credit: OliverN5]

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  • http://twitter.com/SmartCityTrends SmartCityTrends

    Fast-moving trains are the way to go. RT @CleanTechies News: British High Speed Rail Ushers In a New Era of Travel http://bit.ly/6NXrKk

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  • http://www.openlybalanced.com Jess @ Openly Balanced

    It would be great to see a high-speed rail line up and down the West Coast (U.S.). Ah, well. We can keep hoping, right?

  • D-Man

    This is indeed encouraging news. However, President Obama’s recently awarded one-time $8 billion dollar rail stimulus package may not be sufficient enough to encourage continuous investment in high speed rail infrastructure on this side of the Atlantic in order to keep pace with the UK or the rest of the industrialized world for that matter. But, like you mentioned earlier in your blog, Alex that any spending on needed rail infrastucture has been stymied by A)our love affair with the automobile, B)access to cheap oil and C)too much influence by special interests in all levels of government. Time will tell if the US will one day “get its act together”.

  • Uncle B

    High speed rail to Detroit for example would be futile! No call to go to American Hell in a hurry! Canada on the other hand has the “Go Trains accross the richest part of Ontario – not high speed at all but adequate for purposes intended and a huge savings in transportation costs for Canadians, the most part modest income earners at best! Look to less not more in the U.S. They are ina an irreversible decline and their dollar is falling fast with no recovery in sight. Asian powerhouses like China have nuclear electricity powered electric bullet train networks up and running for an energy sustainable economy long after the Middle east Oil paradigm plays out. To put the American problem in perspective see:

    http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2Nrlnk/exiledonline.com/slums-of-detroit-a-look-at-the-heart-of-americas-2nd-most-deserted-city