Fast Trains And The North-South Divide

Is large-scale sustainable transport possible? Should we welcome Britain’s fastest-ever domestic train, which has arrived in Southampton this week? The UK’s North- South economic divide brings these questions into sharp focus. The further one is from London, the more important connectivity can become. So is carbon footprint a critical issue only after the economics have been taken care of?
Economics and environment don’t always mix. For some the pressing need is to reduce travel. For others, it is vital to improve physical connection. These complicated issues have come up the agenda again this week, with the news that the Go-Ahead Group has arranged imminent delivery of 29 high-speed Hitachi trains from Japan, which will operate from 2009 on the South Eastern network.
Low expectations?
Whilst commuters in the South are getting excited about travel times and accessibility to the Capital, those in more northerly parts of the UK are likely to be less enthused. For many the expectation of poor transport is a way of life, and there is a feeling – perhaps unjustly in respect of some local northern operators – that nothing is going to happen to change this. For others, the temptation is to believe that yet again the South is benefiting and the rest are not. Few Northerners are as yet willing to ditch their cars.
Will the new fast trains effect a change of heart? The optimists for train travel think that signs we are catching up with the Europeans will focus a national clamour for this form of transport. More dour observers suggest that because of potential damage to the environment we should not be encouraging travel anyway.
Sustainable transport, sustainable economies
I’m generally on the side of the optimists here. There’s little chance of sustainable living across Britain whilst inequalities (not just North-South, but certainly including that) are so great. I’d like to see more trains, and faster ones, right across the country. This is one area of environmental concern where we really can ask the technical people to work on the ‘clean and green’ agenda.
Science can’t solve all eco- problems, but in terms of transport and communications, we shouldn’t write technology off yet. The challenge now is for the politicians to come up with proposals which will match economic balance across the North and South with the possibilities opening up in transport.
Nothing in life stays still. Sustainability in communities of whatever size must start from the ‘can do’, the will to be positive and fair, because any other starting point is doomed in the long-run to failure.

Posted on August 21, 2007, in Knowledge Ecology And Economy, People And Places, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Sustainability As If People Mattered, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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