I had to use an aeroplane this week. I didn’t want to use an aeroplane but the reality of 21st Century London to Scotland train travel meant that I just couldn’t make the timings work unless I did.
It’s a shame because, carbon footprints aside, the train is still a much more pleasant way to travel. And even with our Victorian rail network the total journey time isn’t actually that much longer.
But not to worry. Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis and his Tory shadow Theresa Villiers have, in the last few days, repeated their promises to place high speed rail at the heart of future UK transport plans.
And while there are, of course, differences when it comes to the detail of precise preferred routes, we are actually seeing cross-party consensus on this issue. Both major parties have signalled that commitment to investment in a new north-south rail route as an alternative to air travel is fundamental to their policy offering.
“As we head towards General Election campaign season, cross-party support for any policy is going to be pretty thin on the ground. We have to exploit this.”
It is significant because as we move away from party conference season and head towards what is likely to be a long and bloody General Election campaign season, cross-party support for any policy is going to be pretty thin on the ground. We have to exploit this.
Villiers, of course, this week rubbished “Labour’s stumbling efforts” on high speed rail and claimed that in reality the Conservatives were “the party that is committed to bringing high speed rail to the north of England” (News).
However she will be acutely aware that Adonis has won many influential friends in the high speed rail world.
His passion, knowledge and commitment to the subject have been described as “nothing short of remarkable”. And don’t forget his success in persuading chancellor Alistair Darling to the view that “for Britain, high speed rail is a no-brainer”.
“Let’s start the campaign now. No matter who wins the next general election Lord Adonis should continue as transport secretary.”
All of which leaves Adonis in an interesting position. While he maintains his commitment to the Labour Government he has, in reality, few political ties to the Brown administration. He could very easily make himself available to assist a Cameron government − should it get elected next year.
And you have to say that in terms of consistency of thinking and policy delivery, such a defection would not be a bad thing at all for the industry. The fact that Adonis is a very competent transport secretary can only help.
So let’s start the campaign now. No matter who wins the next general election Lord Adonis should continue as transport secretary.
Go on − resist the temptation to get sucked into discussion about Villiers’ pledge to wage war on speed cameras. While it’s interesting and potentially vote winning, it won’t help any of us avoid an aeroplane journey to Scotland in future.
For that much greater challenge Adonis is the man. Let’s make the case!
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor