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From The Socialist newspaper, 16 June 2010

New rail lines

High speed trains and high priced fares

Proposals for a second high speed line (HS2) between London, Manchester and Leeds were announced earlier this year by the outgoing Labour government, at a cost of 30 billion. Construction of the first phase from London to Birmingham is due to start in 2017.

Mark Pickersgill

The new line would be routed through the Chiltern hills, an area of outstanding beauty north of London, by tunnel and using disused lines. Journey times to Birmingham would be cut to 46 minutes.

Britain lags well behind other European countries such as France, Spain and Germany that already have high speed line networks. In Spain for instance passengers travel the 307 kilometres from Madrid to Zaragoza (the equivalent distance of London to Liverpool) in 74 minutes. In France some airline companies no longer offer flights from Paris to Lyon because journey times are quicker by train.

High speed trains are also less polluting than airplanes, a high speed train travelling from London to Paris is ten times more fuel efficient than a passenger aircraft making the same journey.

However, while some of the advantages of high speed trains are clear, not everybody will benefit because of the high cost of fares. For instance, domestic passengers on the new high speed service from St Pancras to Kent, using the channel tunnel high speed rail link (HS1), have to pay on average 35% more than on the existing conventional services.

Only 15% of commuters that travel from the north Kent and Thanet area have switched to the new faster service. Others are deterred by the extra cost, but also the fact that many don't want to enter London via St Pancras. South East Trains, which runs the franchise, has already cut the number of coaches on each train by half due to the lack of demand for their high speed service.

Train companies that use the high speed line pay access charges and this cost is passed onto passengers - even though the cost of building the line in the form of 5.2 billion worth of debt has been taken on by the government, and the train operating company that presently runs the franchise has already received 80 million in government subsidies.

As with much of the rest of the public transport system, private companies receive large government subsidies to run transport while extracting huge profits. But when these companies fail, their liabilities are underwritten with public money - as in the case of Railtrack, Metronet (on the London underground) and the East Coast main line.

The cost of train travel in Britain is already the highest in Europe - on average 50% higher - despite the huge subsidies that are given to the train companies. The privatised railway system costs three times more than it did under publicly-owned British Rail.

The building of a high speed rail system would be of enormous social benefit but only if it is properly planned with consideration given to the environment, and is fully integrated and affordable. To achieve this, the whole public transport system should be renationalised but this time under democratic workers' control and management and run in the interests of the whole of society.

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In The Socialist 16 June 2010:

Millionaire ministers savage public services

'Bloodbath budget' day protests and meetings


Comprehensive education under attack

Opposing 'Dickensian' academy schools in Waltham Forest

National Shop Stewards Network

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Unison local government conference: Delegates face huge struggles

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Wales Unison: Socialist Party member elected

NHS Scotland - ConDemned to terminal decay

Southampton library staff strike to save jobs

Save the Big House

Socialist Party editorial

Labour leadership contest dominated by right wing

Socialist Party news and analysis

TUSC plans for future elections

BP's value plunges as oil spill worsens

Willetts approves tuition fees hike

Bloody Sunday report appears 38 years late

IDS's 'anti-poverty drive' attacks the poorest!

High speed trains and high priced fares

Why we don't back the Queen's pay claim

Fast news

Diary dates


Tower Hamlets: Jobs, homes and services - not the racist EDL!

International socialist news and analysis

Greece: A test bed for 'austerity' and resistance

Spain: Millions of public sector workers strike over brutal cuts

Portugal: Mobilisation against austerity reaches new level

Socialist Party Scotland launched at packed and inspiring meeting


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