The thing is that I am genuinely surprised that HS2, the high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, has been given the go-ahead. I honestly believed that the vast numbers of Tory voters and donors who live in the Chilterns would see it off like an errant rambler.
No matter which way you look at it, the gains (spending 30 fewer minutes on a train to Birmingham) seem pretty paltry for the £33bn cost. For that kind of money, surely we could have just slowed the earth on its axis, and added an extra 30 minutes to each calendar day instead.
The argument against HS2 has largely focussed on the fact that trains will run through an area of outstanding natural beauty, rather than the nebulous financial case for travelling to Birmingham, and perhaps one day Manchester, marginally faster than you did before. I’m not quite sure why train passengers are less entitled to have a look at an area of natural beauty than people who live in it, although I do think the high-speed element will rather preclude that, unless you consider blurry sheep to be things of great beauty.
Oddly, there seems to have been almost no campaign against HS2 from the people in London who will lose their homes rather than their views. The building over the road from mine will be demolished when the new line is built, yet there has been no campaign in my neighbourhood at all. I went to one consultation meeting, and it was completely devoid of the passionate fury which characterised the rest of the Stop HS2 campaign.
There were just a few of us quizzing a nice engineer who explained that while it will be noisy when they’re digging the tunnels (and knocking down the housing, I suspect), after that it shouldn’t be too bad. Since I already live by 6 train tracks, I can’t imagine it will be much louder that it is now. And to be honest, I can’t really hear the trains at the moment, because of the noise from the flats they’re building nearby. Maybe the coalition should try that to win over the sceptical public: set off klaxons in the Chilterns for several months, then turn them off, and let everyone realise how quiet the trains are in comparison.
At the risk of being a train Luddite, I genuinely can’t see the benefits of travelling 90 miles in 45 minutes, rather than the current 1h20. Virtually everyone on a train has a phone or a laptop now: we’re working while travelling, so the journey time isn’t as important as it once was. If asked, I think most of us would prefer the trains to be cheaper rather than faster.