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Railway Road Shows

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The London and Birmingham Railway cuts through Camden Town in 1836-37

Besides scrapping the welfare state, the government’s plans to return Britain to the Victorian age include ‘High Speed Two (HS2)’, a ‘proposal to introduce high speed rail from London to Birmingham – and later to Manchester, Leeds and ultimately Scotland. The recommended route would run from a rebuilt Euston Station to a new station in Birmingham.’ The Department for Transport is currently running a formal consultation, which includes a series of ‘road shows in Camden to provide more information on the proposals and give you the opportunity to have your say’. The first of them is at Euston today, until 8 p.m. There’s a vivid description in Dombey and Son of what happened to Camden when the London and Birmingham Railway was built in the 1830s:

Houses were knocked down; streets broken through and stopped; deep pits and trenches dug in the ground; enormous heaps of earth and clay thrown up; buildings that were undermined and shaking, propped by great beams of wood. Here, a chaos of carts, overthrown and jumbled together, lay topsy-turvy at the bottom of a steep unnatural hill; there, confused treasures of iron soaked and rusted in something that had actually become a pond. Everywhere were bridges that led nowhere; thoroughfares that were wholly impassable; Babel towers of chimneys, wanting half their height; temporary wooden houses and enclosures, in the most unlikely situations; carcases of ragged tenements, and fragments of unfinished walls and arches, and piles of scaffolding, and wildernesses of bricks, and giant forms of cranes, and tripods straddling above nothing. There were a hundred thousand shapes and substances of incompleteness, wildly mingled out of their places, upside down, burrowing in the earth, aspiring in the air, mouldering in the water, and unintelligible as any dream.

But no doubt Dickens was exaggerating.

Comments on “Railway Road Shows”

  1. Joe Morison says:

    But now the rail network is unambiguously a good thing; and while i feel sorry for those who are going to have their rural idylls turned upside down during the building of the HS2 lines, i don’t see how it won’t end up being a good thing. People need to travel and the train is the most civilized way of doing it. Mainland Europe has been leading the way for years, it’s time we caught up.

    • Thomas Jones says:

      I agree that the rail network is a good thing. But there’s more to the railways than highspeed intercity lines. It will be incredibly expensive – to build, and no doubt to travel on – with all the costs borne by the public sector and all the profits pocketed by private companies. As for passengers, the new ultra-high-speed Milan-Rome service, for example, has made life much worse for anyone wanting to take a shorter journey by train anywhere in between, which means more cars on the roads. Then have a read of this, James Meek on the rebuilding of the West Coast Main Line: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/apr/01/transport.politics

      • Harry Stopes says:

        But I don’t see the link between the points you’ve made here (and that Meek makes), and what you say in the main text of the article. Meek’s report makes it clear that the upgrading of the West Coast Main Line was a complete shambles, but that’s an argument for building HS2 properly, not for not building it at all. And I’m not sure what you mean about making shorter journeys more difficult, perhaps you could explain.

        • Thomas Jones says:

          The post was mostly an excuse to quote that passage of Dickens… But I think it’s worth asking in whose interests HS2 is being planned. Apparently it will be good for ‘business’ – not much talk about passengers. The main problem for regional and older intercity trains in Italy is that they’re forced off the fast track to make way for the new intercity eurostars, which admittedly wouldn’t apply in the case of HS2, assuming the old track is maintained. But services in Italy have also been cut, because priority at every level is given to the faster, newer, more expensive trains. I can’t see that not happening with HS2. It will be very nice for people who want to get between Birmingham and London (and Heathrow) quickly; probably not so great for people who want to get from Coventry to Birmingham or Banbury to London in a reasonable time at a reasonable cost. Not great, either, for people in Camden, who are being told there’s no money for basic public services in the borough but there is money for a business-friendly high-speed rail-link from Euston to Birmingham.

          • Harry Stopes says:

            You’re right that high speed, long distance intercity train travel is by no means the only transport infrastructure investment we need, and maybe isn’t the most important. Public transport within London may be basically ok, but it’s massively overstretched, and outside of London it’s a joke. (For example, deregulation of buses in Manchester means that some routes cost upwards of £2.50 for a short single journey.) Most people that support HS2, including me, probably do so because they (we) feel that any plan that promises some kind of investment in public transport probably should be supported – which is a depressing state of affairs I suppose.
            (There are cuts in local council budgets all over the country, many of them even more severe than those suffered by Camden, I’m not sure than Camdeners have a monopoly on being irritated about that.)

          • alex says:

            The Dickens quote is indeed nice, but Harry’s points are good ones. Train travel to London from many cities goes at over 90 mph and at a reasonable price if you book in advance. But journeys between, e.g. Liverpool – Manchester – Bradford – Birmingham take place at less than 40mph and are often a drag. These are the ones that need improving.
            Also, do we have to talk about Camden and Italy? How about Islington and France for a change?

            • Martin says:

              Or Germany and India? But I don’t understand why people have to treat the extra half-hour, let’s say, between Birmingham and Liverpool as a hindrance. To me that half-hour would be a perfect opportunity to enjoy some uninterrupted reading; others might like to mull over the coming day, read the newspaper, surf the net, catch up on email correspondence or sleep, listen to the radio or some music or even, god forbid, hold a business meeting via cell phone. How many of them, having got to their destination half an hour earlier would benefit from that time optimally – to utilise the requisite business jargon? I refer Simon & Garfunkel.

              • alex says:

                I visit Manchester and Birmingham regularly, my main purpose usually being to visit libraries, galleries, see people. I can’t do those things on the train. I’d go more frequently if the trains were quicker. Londoners can get there in almost the same time as I can, even though I live much nearer.

                • Martin says:

                  Well, I admit, I’m terribly impatient and would no doubt be as frustrated as you are if I relied on slow public transport. Instead I can jump into my car and get to my destination fairly swiftly – outside of rush hour. On the downside, I live in Cape Town, so a) I have to survive copious attempts on my life by deranged drivers getting there; and b) ‘there’ isn’t nearly as interesting as Manchester and Birmingham’s galleries.
                  But theoretically I see nothing wrong with slow trains – no doubt Flanders and Swann did that to me. And when I do occasionally go into the city centre by train I enjoy the ride.

  2. Martin says:

    Why the rush?

  3. D. Paroissien says:

    Would you mind providing the source for the image used for the post?

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