But this high-speed railway link, running from Kent to London and is 68 miles long, is the ONLY high-speed railway link in Britain, the country which invented trains and railways and has the world's oldest rail network.
As a comparison, Japan (which is only slightly larger than Britain) has 1,600 miles of high-speed track and France (which is over twice as large as Britain) has over 1000 miles of high-speed track - almost 15 times longer than Britain's.
This should shame Britain's New Labour governing party.
Eurostar is first class but the rest of our trains are a disgrace
6th September 2007
One of the most perversely lowering experiences of my life was to travel ten years ago by a Japanese bullet train from Tokyo to a city 300 miles away.
The journey took about two hours. We arrived on time. I don't mean a minute early or a minute late. I mean on time.
What was depressing was that I knew there would never be such a train running in Britain in my lifetime.
There are 1,600 miles of high-speed track in Japan.
There have never been any crashes or derailments.
The trains are always punctual, as well as being clean, comfortable and reasonably priced.
You may say that we do, at last, have an equivalent train. On Tuesday, the Eurostar took just over two hours to travel the 200-odd miles between Paris and London, taking a route named High Speed 1 from Folkestone to St Pancras station, which has been developed at a cost of £5.8 billion.
A triumph, certainly. The trouble is that these 68 miles of track constitute the only highspeed route in this country.
That is not a lot of track if you consider what Japan - a country not much bigger than Britain - has.
France, twice the size, has more than 1,000 miles of fast track on which TGV trains reach speeds of nearly 200mph.
Record breaker: This week a train travelled from Paris to London - 215 miles - in two hours, three minutes and 39 seconds - a record
We have just 68 miles - and so it will remain for the foreseeable future.
Nor can this Government congratulate itself even for these measly 68 miles. The only reason we have a high-speed train at all is because Margaret Thatcher backed the Channel Tunnel some 20 years ago.
This entailed co-operation with the French, who already had highspeed trains, and were happy for us to use their technology.
These 68 miles of track can be chalked up to Lady Thatcher and the French.
Shaming, isn't it, that we should have been left so far behind the French, Japanese, Germans and even the Spanish?
It is wonderful that, thanks to French technology, we will soon be able to travel from London to Paris in two hours, 20 minutes.
But it takes four and a half hours to reach Edinburgh from London, a distance of about 400 miles.
The fastest train to Penzance, not much further from London than Paris, takes more than five hours.
The Government has been in power for more than ten years, during which time it has presided over an unprecedented period of economic growth - for which it deserves due credit.
Yet during these ten years it has failed to plan a single mile of high-speed track.
I discount the West Coast main line from London to Glasgow, upgraded at a cost of many billions, on which trains were supposed to be able to run at 140mph.
In the event, Virgin's new tilting trains have fallen far short of that speed, and the journey from London to Glasgow still takes about five hours.
This is the same line on which a Virgin train left the track in Cumbria last February, leaving one woman dead and 22 injured.
On Tuesday, a report by Network Rail, the company responsible for track maintenance, revealed that loose bolts were at fault.
Thank God the train was travelling at only 95mph.
Not withstanding Margaret Thatcher's visionary support for the Channel Tunnel, the Tories can be blamed for starving the railways of resources during the Eighties and Nineties.
No one would pretend they handled rail privatisation remotely competently. But all that is long in the past.
This Government, which boasts of its investment in the public sector and criticises the Tories for under-investment, has done little to improve the general standard of rail services and absolutely nothing to provide us with a high-speed service to compare with those of continental countries.
Oh, I must be fair. A plan has recently been aired that envisages the construction of a new high-speed line from London to Glasgow at the cost of £10 billion.
Trains would travel at nearly 200 miles an hour, and Glasgow would be reached in about two hours. Doesn't it sound marvellous?
The only snag is that the line - if it is ever built, which one may legitimately doubt - will not be finished until 2025.
I make that 18 years.
Eighteen years to build a railway line! The French would do it from scratch in four or five.
I know that the planning process is said to be more drawn-out in Britain, but it is not beyond the wit of the Government to do something about this.
The issue is not really about planning. It has to do with the extraordinary lack of ambition of our politicians and their want of any vision, so that it takes the French, whose economic prowess we are apt to mock, to give us the 68 miles of highspeed-track that we now have.
The first culprit is the idiotic John Prescott, whose sprawling empire once included transport.
The first thing he did in 1997 was to kill off nearly all of the Tories' plans to build new roads, but such ideas as he did produce for improving our rail infrastructure came to almost nothing.
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers manoeuvred Railtrack - the private company then responsible for track maintenance - into administration at a cost estimated by one expert at £13 billion, replacing it with Network Rail, which has become a byword for shambolic management and incompetence.
Why can't that "conviction politician" Gordon Brown summon a Cabinet meeting and demand that this country have a highspeed rail link to Glasgow and the West Country within ten years?
Even as one asks the question, one knows with a sinking heart that it is not going to happen.
Tens of billions of pounds have been spent on building new hospitals and schools, without obviously improving the standard of care in the former, or the quality of teaching in the latter, but large sums cannot be found for a new high-speed rail link.
It would doubtless take decades to build and go far over budget, if by some miracle the money were produced.
Look at the mess that has been made of the London Underground. Metronet, the company charged with modernising the Tube system under the Government's controversial private finance initiative, has gone into administration, triggering this week's damaging strike by members of the admittedly obstreperous RMT rail union.
A government that has so mismanaged the Tube can hardly be relied on to plan and build a high-speed line.
The sclerosis and incompetence is not doing anything to help global warming, which Mr Brown says is one of his main anxieties.
Aeroplanes produce much more pollution per passenger than high-speed electric trains.
If our skies are full of planes, it is in large measure because it is quicker - as well as much cheaper - to travel any distance in this country by air rather than by rail.
Far more worrying to me is the cost to our economy, as well as the enormous inconvenience involved in sitting on a train for five hours when a Japanese or a Frenchman can get off after two.
A developed transport infrastructure plainly does not guarantee a buoyant economy - one could cite France over the past ten years to make that case - but the lack of one is bound to impede growth.
By all means let us be proud of the new Channel link, though whether it was wise to spend as much as £5.8 billion building it may be doubted, bearing in mind it was only an upgrade of an already fast track, and will knock just 20 minutes off the journey from London to Paris.
But we should try nonetheless to enjoy our little, French-inspired highspeed line, because as long as we have timid politicians in charge who have no vision, we aren't going to have another one.
RAILWAYS - FACTS
Britain has the oldest rail network in the world, being the country in which the railways were first developed.
During Britain's Industrial Revolution, in which British engineering led the world, Englishman Richard Trevithick invented the world's first locomotive in 1804. Amid great interest from the public, on 21 February (external - login to view) 1804 (external - login to view) the machine successfully carried 10 tons of iron, 5 wagons and 70 men the full distance of 10 miles in FOUR hours and 5 minutes, an average speed of nearly 5 mph! Thiis machine though never got past the experimental stage.
The Rocket, The Mechanics Magazine (1829)
The world's first successful locomotive was built by Englishman Robert Stephenson, of Newcastle. It was known as Stephenson's Rocket Locomotive and was developed from the early 1820s. Stephenson's company - Robert Stephenson and Company - was the world's first manufacturer of trains and was based in Newcastle.
The oldest railway in the world is Stockton and Darlington Railway, in the north east of England, which opened in 1825.
Opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825
The Rocket was designed and built to compete in the Rainhill Trials (external - login to view) (held between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester), a competition to select the locomotive type for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (external - login to view), on 6 to 14 October (external - login to view)1829 (external - login to view). Of the five entrants, only three of them were seen as serious contenders. All of the other competitors broke down and Rocket was declared the winner. Rocket fulfilled the key requirement of the contest that a full simulated 50 mile (80km) round trip under load be completed with satisfactory fuel consumption. It averaged 12 miles per hour while hauling 13 tons and 29 miles per hour running light.
The first person in the history of the world to be killed in a railway accident was British Member of Parliament William Huskisson. While attending the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (external - login to view) in 1830, Huskisson rode down the line in the same train as the Duke of Wellington (external - login to view). At Parkside, close to Newton-le-Willows (external - login to view) in Lancashire (external - login to view), the train stopped to observe a cavalcade on the adjacent line. Several members of the Duke's party stepped onto the trackside to observe more closely. Huskisson went forward to greet the Duke. As Huskisson was exiting his car, the locomotive Rocket (external - login to view) approached on the parallel track. Huskisson was unable to get out of the engine's way in time, and his left leg was crushed by it.
British politician William Huskisson was the first person in history to be killed in a railway accident, when he was hit by Stephenson's Rocket locomotive in 1830.