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]