In any situation, it pays to take a step back and review a dilemma at arm’s length.
In this instance, I have in mind a major problem with which Chris Grayling, Minister for Transport, is undoubtedly grappling.
It is called HS2, the High Speed rail link that is rapidly spiraling in projected cost and is in danger of being cancelled.
I ask the fundamental question: is rail travel the only way forward? My arm’s length view is that it is fast becoming obsolete, in comparison with road travel. Its infrastructure is costly, its dependence on schedules is unnecessary, and it is a noisy intrusion for those who dwell on its borders and have to be compensated to move elsewhere. Andy Burnham, now Mayor of Manchester, believes that other rail routes in the north are much more needed and less costly than a link to London that ultimately only really benefits the latter city.
The question is: will Chris Grayling press on regardless with what increasingly looks like becoming a white elephant?
As suggested before, apparently without the notion being investigated for its feasibility, the government should ditch the current approach, whilst it is in its virginity, and compare the total cost with that of a special type of road. On its surface, in both directions, would run an endless, high-speed stream of self-drive vehicles, with stations en-route feeding people and cargoes into feeder lanes. At each terminal station, the incoming vehicles would loop back to an outgoing, low kerbside platform for completion of the loop.
It would be entirely automated and driverless, with no schedules, no empty seats, and stockyards nearby for temporary storage of the rolling stock.
The vehicles would be self-charging, guided along the roadways by the equivalent of cats’ eyes, to replenish and guide them on their way, using the same technology as developed for unconventional railways, like maglev; see
This uses two sets of magnets, one set to repel and push the train up off the track, then another set to move the 'floating train' ahead at great speed taking advantage of the lack of friction. Along certain "medium range" routes (usually 200–400 miles) maglev propelled vehicles could compete favorably against high speed trains and airplanes. Thus, a maglev propelled vehicle could silently transport passengers and goods, the latter at separate and less busy times of the day and night, along dedicated routes at far lower cost than that of railways.
The beauty of the revised HS2 project is that it would lend itself to development of a project that would not have built-in obsolescence, would be a showcase for British engineering in the same mould as engineering projects by Isambard Brunel, and is not so revolutionary as to strike fear in the heart of a timid Minister of Transport (not necessarily the present incumbent).
In addition, an interim version of this system could rapidly be adopted to address the severe overcrowding and delays on commuter rail services into some parts of London.
At the start of this article, I stated that, “An opportunity presents itself”. What better opportunity could there be than for the government to assume responsibility for the Honda plant being vacated in Swindon? They could then invite tenders to supply self-drive electric vehicles for the new style of transport on special routes.
A triple whammy if ever I saw one.