Britain’s trains are fast and reliable

Japanese trains are another nail in the coffin for our engineering manufacturing base

Sir, The decision to order the new inter-city train sets from the Japanese (report and comment, Feb 13) is yet another nail in the coffin of the UK’s engineering manufacturing industry.

The Transport Minister states that some of the manufacturing will be in the UK but a substantial part will be in Japan, and they will get all the advantage of the design and development of these new trains, which will improve their competitive position.

You suggest that these trains will “turn a nation of public transport Neanderthals into railway sophisticates”. The present 125 trains were designed and built in the 1960s/late 1970s, and have proved to be comfortable, reliable and fast. They were, and are, ideally suited to the high-density railway network in the UK, and they should not be compared with the high-speed trains in Japan and France, which have dedicated tracks. You should not denigrate what was at its time an excellent design.

Might I suggest that the problems of our railways have nothing to do with the design and construction of the 125 trains. They were much more to do with the ill-considered privatisation of British Rail into a myriad companies, with the resultant destruction of railway research and the railway industry from which we are only now beginning to recover.

This decision to purchase our new trains from Japan will inevitably lead to a further decline in our engineering manufacturing industry at a time when it is clear that the Government’s faith in the so-called financial services industry has been greatly misplaced.

It is time that we recognised the urgent need to regenerate our engineering manufacturing base to make a more significant contribution to the nation’s GNP.

Emeritus Professor Sir Bernard Crossland

Queen’s University, Belfast

From The Times

February 18, 2009