I promised to explain why I did not go by train to Manchester. My local station is a twenty five minute or so walk from home. The first available train to get me to London Waterloo leaves at 6.06 in the morning, and after a change of train gets me there at 7.31 if it is on time. I needed to be at my destination in Manchester by 10.30 in the morning. That meant catching the 7.35 from Euston to get to Manchester Picadilly for 9.49. There was no way I could cross London in four minutes. Even if I had caught the later Euston train, the 8 am, and ran the risk of being late for my speech, I would only have had 29 minutes to get the Jubilee to Green Park and the Victoria line from there. So the train offered me the prospect of setting out at 5.30am but not guaranteeing I could be at my destination by 10.30. It would also have given me five hours of worry that all five trains would work and be on time.
A 35 minute drive to Heathrow, a one hour flight and a thirty minute taxi journey were bound to be shorter, even allowing for the waiting and checking time at Heathrow. I estimated I could leave home at 7am and still be there for 10.30, and so it proved. Three and a half hours. Not good, but fewer links to go wrong.
I could have driven to Euston, but that would entail battling the congestion and heavy London traffic in the morning rush hour, culminating in a difficulty in parking no doubt. That would have taken the best part of two hours, still leaving me with more than a four and a half hour journey if fortunate.
The cheapest option and maybe even the quickest would probably have been to drive the whole way. There was parking at the other end.
We learn this week that after 13 years of dithering and failing to put in any significant new rail or road infrastructure (other than the Channel link which the previous government had planned) the Transport Secretary suddenly wants to slash journey times by train to Birmingham. Of course, on closer inspection he does not expect the government to do this any time soon. It looks like an announcement for an election.
As my journey indicates, for many of us the problem with train travel is getting to the right station to jump onto a faster train in the first place. The endless congestion in most town and city centres near to stations is the number one problem we all face when thinking of train travel. If I lived near Euston and if my meeting had been near Manchester Picadilly it would have been a no brainer to go by train, but few of us are in such a position.
We want easier, cheaper and more timely point to point jounreys of the kind we actually undertake. My journey to Manchester did not need a faster train from London, but easier access to local stations, and faster trains from local feeder stations to main termini.
The government is always talking of joined up policies and integrated transport policy. True integration would improve junctions and roadspace to allow us road access to main stations, and provide plenty of parking when we get there. Then people might switch more to fast trains, and the train might indeed take some of the strain. At the moment the anti motorist policies in many cities gum up the works, force the use of more fuel per mile travelled, delay and frustrate motorists and impede access to rail services. Instead of grandstanding about ever faster trains on a few routes, Ministers should think about real journeys made by people trying to work in this country.