When I was a lad, I loved playing with my electric train set. It was an oval of grey plastic Tri-ang track, with a passing loop, screwed to a plywood trestle table in our otherwise unused front room.
I loved making that second-hand 0-6-0 “Jinty” tank locomotive whizz round the track pulling its NCB coal wagon, a BP oil tank truck, a white fish van and a guard’s van.
But that wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I saved up my pocket money and soon had enough to buy a set of points and track for a tiny goods siding. Then I swopped four Dinky toy cars for a three-wheel Scammell Scarab articulated lorry to haul the goods away.
Eventually, I saved enough cash for a 2-6-2 passenger tank engine and a couple of carriages in the “blood and custard” livery of maroon and cream.
Then I made a small Airfix station where my little passenger train could stop.
Yes, playing with trains can become addictive, and I fear that’s what we’re in danger of doing with HS2. And instead of the 50 bob my train set cost my mum and dad, we’re in danger of splashing out £50 billion on a line that won’t provide any benefits until 2026 – if you believe that opening date.
There is an alternative; the former Great Central line – connecting Manchester with London via Sheffield and Rugby – that was axed by Dr Beeching in 1966.
Much of the abandoned structure is still in place, and experts say it could be rebuilt for a fraction of HS2 – around £6 billion. It wouldn’t be as fast as HS2, but it would provide vital extra north-south capacity much sooner and would annoy the green shire MPs a lot less.
Some critics say this wouldn’t work; too much of the line has been built over, the existing line into London Marylebone would be overcrowded, there would still be “Nimby” objections, and so on.
But with so much money at stake, surely it’s worth making a serious investigation into this route.
And if the Great Central lives again, just think what we could do with the money saved.
We could replace those awful four-wheel Pacer bus-on-rails units that still bump, rattle and screech along the network.
We could reopen the 11.5-mile missing link between Colne and Skipton, that should never have closed in the first place.
We could have weekday trains running through Clitheroe to Hellifield, maybe even stopping at Chatburn and Gisburn again. All aboard?