Wednesday, 31 July 2019

UK not on fast track

- but not the slowest either

Last Saturday, the South Wales Evening Post headlined a story about fast trains "On the wrong track". This year's report of world train speeds in a biennial series from Railway Gazette International shows the UK in 13th place. The magazine's survey reflects a real-world railway from the passengers’ point of view. Trains are selected if they run from Monday to Friday and average more than 160 km/h between different station pairs. The survey does not include one-off or weekend services. Entries in the tables are based on the timetables in use for May and June 2019.

The point that the Post makes is that in 1977 the UK made it to second place. Since then, we have been overtaken not only by prestige projects such as those in Japan and later China (who now holds the record at 317 kph) but also by fellow EU members Italy, France, Spain and Germany who have the same problems of upgrading existing infrastructure in a modern democracy. Austria comes in at 179.6 kph, the same as the UK, but with the probable excuse that there not as many lines on a level grade as here. Norway, Sweden and Finland are even slower, but so, surprisingly, is the Netherlands.

Personally, I am less concerned about the top speed of our top lines than about the experiences of the majority of rail passengers. Resuming the electrification programme initiated by the coalition would not only raise average speeds and reliability of service, but also go a long way to reducing our CO2 production.

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