HOWEVER powerful the case for mega projects to improve our railways, it’s often the small incremental improvements that make the most welcome change for passengers.
They are not subject to long political and financial delays. They can be effected relatively quickly without incurring massive costs. And they can be undertaken without massive disruption to existing services.
It is for these reasons that a new fleet of Hitachi trains on rail routes between Edinburgh and London will be warmly welcomed by rail travellers. They will cut almost 20 minutes from journey times between the two capital cities. They will increase capacity. They are expected to be up to five times more reliable than the current East Coast fleet. And the carriage design should offer more comfort for passengers.
This development ticks several key boxes. The £1.2 billion order for 30 new nine-carriage trains will increase the total number of seats by nearly one fifth compared to current trains. And they will use 12 per cent less energy per passenger per journey compared to the existing ones, with an extra 2in (50mm) of legroom in airline-style seats.
It is an encouraging example of how proper maintenance and uplift can provide tangible benefits for existing travellers and provide further incentives for those currently making the journey by plane or by car to switch to rail. Far from the increase in train passenger numbers being a one-off, it looks to be an important feature in the evolution of the UK’s transport infrastructure, and one to be encouraged, given the environmental benefits and improvement in the journey experience, from baby changing facilities to wi-fi provision.
The announcement coincided yesterday with news from ScotRail of a major expansion to rail timetables in August to enable more people from outside the Scottish capital to enjoy the Edinburgh Festival. More trains and hundreds of extra carriages will be laid on next month, with new services for Fife, Stirling and the west of Scotland.
However, on a longer term view, major infrastructure projects still have to be embarked upon. Modern links, comparable to the best in the world, are vital for Scotland’s economy and to this end the need for a firm commitment from the UK government to ensure the High Speed Rail Two project comes north has become imperative.
The case for this project should not be explained solely in terms of the advantages of faster travel times between London and Birmingham. Its raison d’etre critically rests on the improved connectivity between the north of England, Scotland and the rest of the UK. Indeed, there is a powerful case for initiating work at the northern end while planning obstacles further south are overcome. We have much to applaud and enjoy in the improvements to our rail system. But our longer term transport needs should not be constantly delayed.
‘I’ve started, so I’ll try to finish’
It can happen to the coolest and the most professional, and there are few more cool and professional than BBC news presenter Sally Magnusson. Whether it was the heat or an unfortunate series of unconnected technical glitches, BBC Scotland’s lunchtime news yesterday degenerated into the chaotic.
In what she described on air as “a wee bit of a dog’s breakfast”, links were cut, packages didn’t appear then did, and at one point the weather map was unexpectedly on screen, complete with its obviously puzzled presenter.
Ms Magnusson, seeking to find an elegant way out of the debacle – indeed any way out – signed off with items unread, spread out her arms and let forth a cry of despair.
The chaos began when the studio link to golf correspondent Paul Goodlad at Muirfield went down in mid-sentence. It went downhill from there. Items cued up did not appear and the news list became totally muddled. All it needed was for the studio backdrop to collapse or Ms Magnusson’s desk to disintegrate. A total lighting breakdown may even have provided some solace.
Few viewers would not have felt a touch of sympathy for Ms Magnusson in her predicament, and her closing gesture rather invited viewers to share her ordeal.
Such chaos can befall us all, even the most accomplished, and most of us will have been in a situation where a series of unwanted events and surprises snowballs to the point where hiding frustration is impossible.
Luckily for most of us, we are not on television being watched by a nation. So we can both empathise and sympathise with Ms Magnusson, and reflect that it’s nice to know we are all human.