Justine Greening was interviewed at length on the Today program, in an interview which focused on the possibility of a third runway at Heathrow, but also touched on railway issues.
After a long period in which she refused to say whether she would refuse to sit in a cabinet which supported a third runway, the interview eventually got on to discussing railway issues, including the awarding to First Group of the franchise for the West Coast Main Line.
The First Group bid depended on growth of 10% per annum whereas the interviewer pointed out that growth was currently less than 1%.
Finally Greening got onto what sometimes seems like her favourite theme, of why she wanted to copy the Victorians, and build a new HS2 railway. She said the last major railway finished in 1899, under Victorians, and that she wanted to be bold like the Victorians were.
The thing is, the Victorians didn’t look back and copy what was going on more than a century earlier, in the 1700s. They looked at what was new in Victorian times, and that was trains – then.
If we want to copy Victorian vision, we should not try and rebuild what they built. We should look at what is new in the 21st century – and that isn’t a faster train.
The development of internet and digital technologies and the things that come from those is one of the more exciting new technologies now (the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Burners-Lee, took part in the London Olympics opening ceremony).
What is changing the world now are the developments to support broadband, allowing remote working and videoconferencing. This will reduce the need to travel, affecting both air travel and reducing further the demand for long distance rail travel.
PS for the next week, you can listen to the Greening interview on the internet here. It starts at 2:10.