Posted by: cehwitham | September 9, 2006

Maglev Leap

There has been great debate recently over the technology of Maglev trains. Trains that do not run on rails and bogies but rather float above a line of magnets.

The UK is a known innovator and embracer of new technology. Once the masters of a great empire and home to many inventors and great minds. Unfortunately as well as global success the UK are very good at Short Term Four Year Fixes. Once voted in, a British government has four years to make the best impression it can and to win support for the next election.

Instead of knocking down rotten school walls and rebuilding them, they just whitewash over them. That dingy dangerous car park gets new shrubs planted in front of it instead of the CCTV and lights that it requires. There is no long term planning, no cost effective investment and no continuity.

This is why the British railways are in the mess they are. There is no long term planning or investment, we just make a bodge job of it so it looks ok for the next general election. This is why we won’t be the ones to introduce the Maglev train into the mainstream commuter market.

The Japanese on the other hand have the Leap factor that we lack. In 1964 the Japanese government undertook a huge 50 year loan from the World Bank and set out to build the best railway in the world. Shinkansen was born. Japan switched its gauge to coincide with the British Standard Gauge. They went the distance and made the leap.

Two thirds of the way through the project Japan is now enjoying a first class, high speed railway that hasn’t seen a fatal accident in its 42 years of running. Sleek and stylish travel that’s affordable and never late. Something the British can barely dream of.

So why don’t we take the leap and put together our 50 year plan to put us back on top of the world? Why don’t we vote for cheap, efficient, quality rail travel that will solve congestion and save the environment? Why? Because we live with a democracy that only cares about the next four years.



  1. couldn’t agree more with your political statement there…sadly politcians are often to eager to play to our worst instincts with attention-grabbing rather than building…oh and ( i had to say this!) I’VE RIDEN A MAGLEV! 🙂 it was everything u’d hope for…

  2. I too deplore the short-termism that has dogged English politics (the Scots are a bit better) since WW2. The knee-jerk fix would be to have parliamentary terms for the House of Commons longer than 5 years, but can you imagine either Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair being allowed to rule for more than 15 years?

    There is also an argument which says that the majority of the electorate are only interested in their own immediate future – i.e they will vote in favour of short-term policies that they can envisage as providing an immediate benfit to themselves, rather than voting in favour of longer-term policies that will benefit their children. This mental attitude has been epitomised in recent decades by the enormous increases in personal debt. People would rather go deeper into debt and satisfy their current “must-have” urge, rather than save money / make investments for the future. The Japanese I believe have a very different attitude to the spend / save balance.

    So, if a House of Commons mandated by popular vote cannot deliver long-term planning and decision making, is there a role for the House of Commons (provided it does not also become an elected assemby clone of the House of Commons)? Or even – radical thought this – could there be a role for the hereditary Monarchy in pushing for long term planning. After all, some of Price Charles’ comments do make a lot of sense.

    The above argument of course follows the usual British model of separating State from Church. Perhaps it is high time that the Church pushed its way into Politics. We’ve seen this happen in a big way in the USA over the last two decades, and in my view the results are not pretty! Could the good ole CofE do a better job?

  3. I don’t like the idea of the church in politics ‘per se’, but if leaders want to contribute a new voice to a debate, as the archbishiop did this mornin, then that could be benifical. We should keep church money helping the poor, not our own interests. As for the general problem, I think you are right about the electorate which is why our challenge is to raise the level of debate, create consensus, and persuade people that progress is in thier long-term interests…of course, easier said than done. 🙂

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