The debate on High Speed 2 this last week has re-sparked a passion of mine. My first love was Thomas. He was a steamy, old-fashioned type. I was four years old and full of locomotive-inspired romance. Thomas was a tank engine, a beautiful, fun-loving blue train. There’s something quite magical about steam engines of long ago, something hard to put into words. The billowing steam that trails behind as the engine chugs along the line, pulling along passengers in decorated, wooden carriages. There’s the Hogwart Express of the Potter books and films, giving picture to a beautiful, sleek red train full of magical students carrying their spell books and luggage. I love trains, I’ll admit it. Trains of today, alas, are nothing of what I imagined and hoped for when I was younger. The romantic, novel-rousing steam engines are long gone; their replacements, whether electric or diesel, look tired, worn-out and depressed.
As a student you and I both know how much we rely on trains. The semester ends with lectures full of people and their suitcases, all geared up for their journey home. Make no mistake, the journey I take on the Virgin Pendolino service every few months isn’t the smoothest of rides. Firstly you’ve got to deal with actually buying the tickets. To avoid being charged ludicrous amounts you have to carefully scan national rail online or the trainline for the cheapest possible scenarios, weeks in advance. Do not forget your student rail card, it’s a life saver. I was perplexed the other day to discover my housemate does not own such a necessity. I spluttered in disbelief as he told me he would spend £30 to Birmingham. ‘£30!’ I screamed. How on Earth could he be so blind? Planning train journeys is a skill. Once I got back to my sleepy home town of Arundel, five hours away by train, for a mere £11. Screw you Richard Branson.
The next task comes with the less-than-convenient spacing allocated for suitcases. If you’re early enough on the train you can slide your suitcase straight into the lower compartment and avoid the jigsaw operation that follows. Then the hunt begins in search for your reservation seat. Constantly you see students’ heads bobbing up and down, eyes focusing and ears pricked-up like meerkats. Do I have a window seat? I hope so. What about a plug socket? Do I even need a plug socket? I definitely want a plug socket. Sometimes you encounter the modern-day miracle that is of having a four-seater table to yourself. That definitely is living the sweet life my friends.
You see when the UK government announced that they would be upgrading the London to Manchester line to high speed rail, along with other lines too, I was astounded to find so many of the public who were genuinely outraged. David Thornhill from Campaign for Better Transport responded to the news by saying “I have rarely come across such an environmentally catastrophic scheme that is so pointless and so wasteful of money”. Okay, so it’s a lot of money, £32 billion, but it’s also set to create thousands of much needed jobs and make it a lot quicker to get around the country. It will also encourage a lot more people to use trains instead of carbon-intensive cars and planes. Some concerns I can understand. Residence or land owners on the proposed route may have genuine concerns of losing their property. Even discussions on whether spending the money on improving inner-city transport are a good debate. But in my eyes, the proposed investment in infrastructure from a Conservative government should be celebrated.
Our train tickets are over-priced, our luggage-compartments too small and our train conductors grumpy, but us Brits shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. One mention of something funded by the state and we go into a cynical, miserable rant. High speed rail is expensive, not perfect. It will damage some land, and will be an eye-sore. But more importantly, high speed rail will provide a more connected Britain. More jobs and will likely encourage infrastructure investment from all sectors. We have a tendency in this country to get irritated by almost anything. We should stop being so pessimistic and hail this new investment. You and I dear reader, as students, should realise how much we rely on our shabby trains and get behind this upgrade.
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