A few months ago I had to travel from Edinburgh to Liverpool for work. It was utterly miserable. That was partly down to the fact that the event I was attending didn’t go very well (for me, at least).
But the real problem was getting to and from the event. You can get to any of the major cities in the UK from London with no bother at all. It might take an hour longer than you would like, but the trains go all the time and, they are pretty fast, and – crucially – they are direct. Not so up north.
Edinburgh to Liverpool Central – a mere 175 miles as the crow flies – takes around four hours, and involves changing trains. Manchester to Leeds – which are about as far apart as London and Reading – is an hour. Liverpool to Leeds is two hours. And so on.
If you live in the north I suspect that you are as bemused as I am by HS2 and the idea that we all need to get to London faster than we already do (four hours from Edinburgh to London seems just fine to me). What we really want is to get to other northern cities without having to get off to wait on cold platforms, clutching our laptops and praying for no delays as we change trains (the last bit to Liverpool from Edinburgh is on a tiny local train).
So I was thrilled to see that someone in government has finally noticed that there is a problem here – George Osborne now says that he wants to improve transport links such that a northern hub that can rival the dominance of Greater London can be created. A nine-million person strong super-city encompassing Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.
An editorial in the FT today rather dismisses the idea. It accepts that the north needs better infrastructure and more growth, but claims that “it is far from clear how high speed rail will contribute to this”.
I can see the problems with it – short distances limit speed, and straightening lines is expensive. But it is very clear to me how having better trains between northern cities would help (if it actually happens – which I doubt).
It would cost a fortune, but it would also make travelling between cities less time-consuming, boring, and cold – something that might make us all travel between them more often.