Planes, trains and Hinkley Point...

Planes, trains and Hinkley Point...

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Wednesday 26, October, 2016

FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS, we're encountering some turbulence.  We apologise for any delay to your flight / journey / whatever... actually we don't apologise. You are travelling British class so what did you expect?

Another twist in the sorry tale of Heathrow. There are words left to describe this saga so best I stick with one that I think really sums it up. Decadent. Only a country that has an inflated view of itself and the (false) assumption the world can move at our pace would continue to delay what is a very obvious need for massively increasing transport capacity.

We've maxed-out on the PPE generation of MPs who have never done a real job. We've hit Essay Max. There is really only so far talk and 20 minute moulages disguised as debate can take us in politics. After that, there has to be some meat, something tasty we can chew on, something real.

Instead we have an H-bomb crater where modern infrastructure should be. Heathrow, Hinkley Point and HS2 are that H-Bomb. The whole story has been an utter shambles and we have to face facts however unpopular:

Whitehall Central Planning that so miserably failed our industry is continuing to fail to meet our infrastructure needs. South Korea builds for 5 billion pounds what it takes us 18 billion to achieve at Hinkley Point. Did anyone bother checking the rulebook for building new reactors in the UK? Was there a sense at some point maybe we overdo the regulations just a tad? Do 50 years of civilian reactor experience not count as an evidence base that means we can be a little less cautious in our planning?

HS2 has possibly the worst business case of any recent high speed train... and few of them have been successful. Fixed links limit carrying capacity, eliminate flexibility and oblige a three point journey from door to door. Ever increasing speeds, or even average speeds have diminishing returns when urban and suburban transport is dire. HS2 could do 600mph and still it would fail in comparison with a car. 

Why? Simple: the journey to and from HS2 will take considerable time and having to park or worse take public transport to the HS2 station creates extra time and cash costs. Having to choose from one of 27.4 ticket fares 11 days in advance when the moon is waxing and Jupiter lies within Leo does not add to a sense of flexibility... the UK is shocking for this, as if this mélange of prices compensates for a drab service timetabled by civil servants, operated by franchisees whose idea of working toilets and sumptuous coffee should be considered war crimes.

I love rail. Really I do. There is a lot we can do with existing track and stock and should. But it's not a winner long term. It's souped-up 19th century technology. That isn't going to change.

I like aeroplanes more. They're way faster, stupendously safe, and with no fixed links to guide them are very flexible and can carry huge numbers of people a safe distance from city centres. Great stuff. It's such a shame we seem to hate them. They don't cause any more pollution than driving a car on a passenger/km basis. New technology is bringing fuel use down and if we moved to new fuels we could even run the whole thing carbon free. Seriously.

I don't like London's airports though. They're slow, inefficient, vastly overcrowded, and too expensive to run. Then again, the state has directed them since the war so they never had a chance to shine. Our airports are global hubs but are no longer third world because they are worse than that. China, the Gulf, everyone sees to be building new shiny smart phone friendly hubs and we sit back and watch. 

It's a repeat of our industrial sector in the 1970s. The state made our cars. The state bought up excess milk and turned it into cheese: Westminster Blue. It even ran our hotels...,"Basil!"

State interference in planning infrastructure is hampering our global vision of what we could really achieve. There is another form of infrastructure we rarely think of as such. Currency. We made the Bank of England nominally independent and it worked out reasonably well.... by central banking standards.

Driverless cars are going to change the way transport is seen within a decade. Within 20 years we will learn to drive cars for the same reasons we now learn to ride horses...purely for leisure, a throwback to charming times. Driverless cars will mean point to point travel at the click of a....well we probably won't have to click in 20 years and the boundary between public and private transport will have gone. We will be booking cars to take us anywhere we like, Uber-style, the way we book a pizza now. It would take very fast... and very cheap... trains to compensate for that level of convenience.

That's not going to happen.

It's time our planes, trains and nuclear reactors went the way of our automobiles. It's time we let the state wither away from planning them. A system of compensatory and consultation measures can surely be achieved between constructors and local authorities to share revenues raised from their activities. 

Cheaper power for those living near reactors? An evidence based approach to nuclear waste? Acceptance that there's no business case for HS2? Letting airport developers just get on with compensating those living under flight paths?

Like so many things it isn't hard. Imagine if the state ran our supermarkets. We'd be like Venezuela within a week. Beyond ensuring contracts are enforced and evidence based safety measures are in place the fatal conceit of politicians that have never run anything in their life should be laid to rest.

 

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