Simon Nixon

Bring back Beeching

Simon Nixon says that we must build more motorways – and scrap railway lines

Simon Nixon says that we must build more motorways – and scrap railway lines

Perhaps the most important discovery I have made over the last few years is that the way to stay sane in Britain is never to use public transport. The Department of Health tells us to eat five portions of fruit a day and to give up booze and fags. But what it dare not tell us is that the best way to reduce the risk of a heart attack and a host of other stress-related ailments is never to use the bus, Tube or train when you can drive a car or ride a bicycle instead.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the weeks since my fiancée and I found ourselves – for reasons we’re still arguing over – facing the wrong way down one of the approach roads to the M11. Shaken but otherwise unhurt, we were able to get ourselves to Stansted to catch our flight. But the Saab was not so lucky. It never went anywhere again. Since then, we’ve been forced to rely on the train.

Somewhere along the line, the idea seems to have taken hold that the railways are a national treasure that we must preserve whatever the cost. But what a cost! Network Rail has just demanded a subsidy of £27 billion to see it through to 2006 (that is £11 billion more than even its predecessor, Railtrack, was demanding before the government forced it into administration). Meanwhile, the train-operating companies will this year receive a further £1.3 billion of subsidies. Together, these subsidies add up to more than £100 a year for every man, woman and child in the country.

And who benefits from this extraordinary largesse? Clearly not your average taxpayer, since you need to be a Russian oligarch to travel by train.

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