Simon Calder: Chance to rectify mistakes and ease the squeeze

Share
Related Topics

Some of the world's greatest transport infrastructure began life as job-creation schemes: Highway 1 along the coast of California, Australia's Great Ocean Road and, arguably, the Baikal-Amur Mainline, the railway that opened up eastern Siberia. Compared with these mighty projects, George Osborne's plan to build the odd bypass and resurrect some stretches of railway may seem the feeblest of visions.

In fact, the provisions in the Autumn Statement should be broadly welcomed. As a nation, Britain opted out of transportational grands projets a generation or two back, with the exception of much-delayed essentials such as the Channel Tunnel and Heathrow Terminal 5. We left it to the French to build Europe's first proper high-speed rail network – starting 30 years ago, with the latest component opening 12 days from now, connecting the Rhine and Rhone. In comparison, electrifying existing lines will hardly inspire the Brunels of the future.

Yet Britain is a small, crowded nation that, thanks to visionary Victorians, has had its railway framework in place for a century and a half. Against all the odds, the network still mostly meets our needs. France and Spain are vast countries in comparison, with both the space and the necessity to build high-speed, high-capacity railways. Make do, mend and muddle through is the UK's strategy.

The excuse for dismantling much of our rail system was that car ownership was the future. As every British motorist knows, any joy in driving on our motorways and A-roads disappeared decades ago. Today you simply hope that the journey was no worse than yesterday. With neither the will nor the money nor the space to expand the road network, tactically relieving bottlenecks and removing traffic from towns and villages is the best we can expect.

This is not an acceptance of inertia – rather, recognition that in a cramped country with a mature economy the solution is better use of scarce resources. Heathrow and Gatwick are, most of the time, highly efficient: supreme examples of how to squeeze a quart into a pint pot. Terrestrial transport may yet catch up. Yesterday's announcement, if followed through, will make good some of our past mistakes and ease the squeeze for a few more years. And in any event some work will be found for idle hands.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Operations Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently recruiting for an Operati...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, Security Cleared

£100 - £110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Ham...

Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Junior Developer- CSS, HMTL, Bootstrap

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading company within the healthcare ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Prime Minister David Cameron walks on stage to speak at The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference on November 4, 2013  

Does Cameron really believe in 'British Values'?

Temi Ogunye
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz