Posted by: Martin Scherer | 06/03/2011

The UK gets high-speed rail but Florida does not.

…..At the same time that Florida’s Governor turns down high-speed rail, the British government announce a high-speed rail link between London and the UK’s second city, Birmingham. Who is right?

High-speed rail has all the excitement that jet passenger flights had in the 1970’s. Japan and France have enjoyed high-speed trains for decades. China is now building the fastest. So why not Florida?.

The environmental argument in favour of railways is a no brainer. You can move 50 truck loads or hundreds or people on one train at much the same cost as one truck or bus. However, the environmental cost of building new track and trains is very substantial. Local objections to the new UK high-speed track are already mounting.

The real question is – Will people get on the train? The painful experience of the UK is NO, unless forced to. What forces them? Exorbitant sin tax on cars, fuel and parking had little effect. If a government wants people to suppress behaviour, the reality is it will not be done by gradually raising taxes. People simply adapt and demand higher wages. That shows the Government does not intend to stop so called sins of driving or smoking. Government simply wants a bigger tax slice.

What forces people into trains? Time. Not the train journey time. The door to door journey time.

Vehicle speeds in London are down to eight mph when most want to travel and that is only due to congestion. There was a time when I could take the ‘back doubles’ and get across quicker but now everyone knows the short-cuts. London has a good underground network, so the total travel times is quicker by train and tube, than car alone.

There was a time when I could get by car from London to Birmingham in 90 minutes. Now it will take me closer to three hours. Motorway speeds have dropped to little over 50 mph. Give me a train that take 45 minutes and I will jump on board.

Now the additional the costs of UK driving. Average work car-parking costs around $2,000 per annum. There is virtually nowhere you can park for free unless it’s an out of town supermarket. Tampa Bay’s Sunshine Skyway costs $1. Only a quarter as long. the UK’s Severn Bridge costs nearly $10. Then there is the continual risk of getting caught in a speed camera and eventually loosing the right to drive.

If you own a car, and most people will do so, you pay for that car to sit in the drive whether you use it or not. Most cars are status symbols. If they weren’t people would not change them so quick for the latest model. Cars are safety bubbles in which you can chuck the kids, cases, dogs and shopping. Think of chucking that lot on and off a train three or four times on a journey. A train ticket has got to cost a lot less than the fuel and parking costs to make the train worth the struggle.

Now you can guess why we have two cars in the US, only one in the UK, where we drive once a week to go shopping at out-of-town supermarkets. Despite all the complaints of aged snow-birders, the Sarasota travel times are five times shorter per mile and there is little if any road rage. Driving in the US is an easy pleasure compared to the UK.

I’d love to see a high-speed train in Florida, but right now the proposal is a white elephant that will not be self-funding and will have a greater impact on the environment than it saves until Florida’s population triples to 60,000,000. The UK’s London to Birmingham high-speed rail link will be full from the day it opens. The only fault with the UK’s decision is, it should have been built a decade ago.

Sorry.

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