8 March 2012

Efficiency and Trains

Photo: HS2 Ltd

I note that a central plank of the argument for HS2 is the accounting matter of efficiency. If we arrive at our destination earlier, we'll get more done, and thus be more efficient. We are not, it seems, allowed to work on the way. Let us set aside for a moment the depressing intellectual position this proclaims - that the journey is not significant - and focus instead for a moment on the wondrous ability of bean counters to miss the point. In a thoroughly unscientific and appallingly self centred way, I shall base my argument purely on personal experience and extrapolate to the wider world.

In terms of blog posts, I am pretty much constrained these days to coming up with stuff whilst sat on the train. For some reason, the thinking space that the train creates, combined with the gentle rocking motion, allows me to think and write. If journeys were shortened, so thus would my creative output reduce. And what a loss to western civilisation that would be.

The correct solution in terms of efficiency is therefore not to reduce the journey time, but improve the experience whilst on the journey. One thing Network Rail could usefully do to that end is have a jolly good tidy up. The rail network seems to serve a dual purpose these days - obviously it is a route for trains, but it is also a vast linear tip for Network Rail to hide its junk over an extremely stretched out area. If you gathered up all the spare sleepers and rails lying about, you could build a complete new rail line. The recycled railway if you like.

I'm not sure why working on the way to somewhere is not accounted for in these costing exercises - perhaps the kind of people who do this kind of maths are not the kind of people who take the train. And that is something that western civilisation is definitely the poorer for.

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