Justine Greening, Victorians versus Today

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.

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5 comments on “Justine Greening, Victorians versus Today
  1. We are constantly hearing this anaolgy with ‘what the Victorians did’.
    If the Victorians had strangely opted to build faster, straighter canals all over England, then the analogy would stack-up!

  2. In Victorian times the railway was the new form of ‘internet’. Being able to communicate more rapidly than ever before and the idea was popular and looked upon as the future.

    The railways were also built in those days on private investment where the people were willing, voluntarily, to put their money into this new innovation. Today, the public just have the money taken off them whether they like it or not.

    Justine Greening harks back to the foresight of the Victorians while missing the point. They looked to the future – not the past.

  3. I wont be holding my breath for her to visit the many communities who are already blighted and which will be permanently scarred by HS2 but I hope she soon visits Curzon Street in Birmingham and does the 20 minute walk (as confirmed by HS2 Ltd) to New Street Station

  4. Don’t make the mistake of quoting £ 32 billion John. The Capital Cost from the latest so-called Economic Case is in fact £ 37.5 bn when compounded to 2012.

  5. I’m amazed how old fashioned,uninspired and traditional our politicians are.

    Instead of looking back to the Victorians Ms Greening should be looking at the speed of technological advance in the last 10 years and not seeking to borrow a further £32 billion plus to copy old technology

    After all broadband only really got going in 2000 and is still very patchy and often slow
    The Ipod touch launched in 2007,the Ipad in 2010,Twitter in 2006,Facebook in 2004
    In contrast in 1963 a train speed of 256kph was achieved and in 1964 the first high speed line opened in Japan.

    One things for sure we will be amazed at what the next 10 years brings and I will be amazed if it doesnt include great advances that significantly reduce the need to travel

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