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Newsletter, October 2008 (Issue 173)

High Speed Travel

I was researching some facts and figures for the Newsletter when I came across a dusty old report To his Britannic Majesty George IV, from the Committee on Trade and Plantations, on the prospects for Mechanical Conveyance between London and the Northern Manufacturing Districts, August 1822.

'The committee has received evidence from Messrs George and Robert Stephenson, colliery engineers of Killingworth in the County of Northumberland. The elder gentleman is unlettered but professes a rude mechanical aptitude; his son received a modest public education in the City of Newcastle upon Tyne. They possess a remarkable fancy that the steam engine, now employed to drain the collieries of the district, might be adapted for the purposes of locomotion; and that, in the not too distant future, such a device might carry passengers between London and the northern industrial districts at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.

'Your committee considers this view to result from a distempered imagination, probably occasioned by the severe climate and privation experienced in the colliery districts and by frequent recourse to spirituous liquors that all too frequently results. Representatives of your Gracious Majesty's Treasury pointed out to the committee that the latest mail coaches between London and Manchester, sustained by frequent change of horse and travelling by turnpike on Mr Macadam's patented surface, have achieved the remarkable speed of ten miles per hour; and that no possible gain in human welfare could result from attempts to reach a higher velocity.'


In the 1930s a Royal Commission on Transport concluded that Britain would never need the continental innovation of 'motorways'. And in 2007 a White Paper on railways concluded that there was no case for Britain to adopt the continental innovation of 'high speed' railway lines.

Footnote about our mainline to London:

Remarks about the overhead electric wires being nearly 60 years old have been received sceptically. But it is true that the Shenfield to Liverpool Street overheads went up in 1949, although Ipswich-London wasn't electrified until 1985 (extended to Norwich in 1987). Leisurely progress! And it's not 'high speed'.

John Norman

    Front cover of issue 173 Cover, issue 173

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