Railing Against

The government today announced they’re going ahead with new train line plans linking London with the Midlands and then on up the country. There’s the to-be-expected outcry and I can understand a lot of it, especially from people who will experience direct and personal disruption. Houses and lives will be blighted in a very direct way. But over and above those unfortunates, it seems there’s a large and generalised dislike of the scheme, with an awful lot of talk within middle England about preserving the landscape and countryside and so on. If I’m not to censor my stupidity, that’s my knee-jerk reaction too.

Rail track on a grey day

New railways – what’s not to like?

Riding around today though and reflecting on all this, I ended up wondering whether what we all really lack is any sense of and willingness to work towards a bigger picture, a greater good. Perhaps the Thatcher years did succeed in killing off notions of ‘society’. Surely, mass movement by rail is more efficient than movement by individual units on the roads. Surely, trying to spread prosperity out from the over-crowded south east corner of mainland UK is sensible and surely the historical record of improvements to infrastructures is that enabling easier movement does facilitate just that.

Maybe it’s wrong to blame the Thatcher years; maybe it’s just the natural result of increasing affluence as it mutates into increasing greed and increasing fear as we all end up with more to lose. Hence we end up trying to defend our patch, our possessions and all that we perceive as precious.

The similarly knee-jerk position of middle England is that the Victorian railways are wonderful, that Beeching’s cuts were a heinous crime and if only today’s rail companies would do their job properly and hence allow more people to travel by rail then so much would be better in so many ways.

And yes, that’s also my ill-thought-out knee-jerk view.

What I’m thinking is obvious. Of course, Britain wasn’t as crowded then but the great railway building era must have bought incredible levels of disruption to a very great many people. That disruption has now been consigned to the history bin and there’s only this rosy view of the rail network as it was. In time that will very likely be true of this new high speed rail development too. What’s slightly depressing is that that (I hope) fairly dispassionate view doesn’t seem to be given any voice. ‘News’ in the media seems to consist largely of axes being ground, more or less overtly. It needn’t be so ignorant. As a society we are capable of better.