Railway Road Shows

Thomas Jones

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.


  • 24 March 2011 at 11:03am
    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.

    • 24 March 2011 at 8:24pm
      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.

    • 27 March 2011 at 10:47pm
      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.)

    • 28 March 2011 at 11:38am
      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?

    • 29 March 2011 at 6:15am
      Martin says: @ alex
      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.

    • 29 March 2011 at 1:22pm
      alex says: @ Martin
      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.

    • 29 March 2011 at 7:22pm
      Martin says: @ alex
      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.

  • 25 March 2011 at 6:42am
    Martin says:
    Why the rush?

  • 19 September 2011 at 8:24pm
    D. Paroissien says:
    Would you mind providing the source for the image used for the post?

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