CUTTING ROOM: How magnetic levitation would lift the West Coast line; Greenspan does the honours; atlas alert; and the funny side of Yellow Pages ... Evan Davis at large

CUTTING ROOM: How magnetic levitation would lift the West Coast line; Greenspan does the honours; atlas alert; and the funny side of Yellow Pages ... Evan Davis at large - This column is becoming obsessed with trains. Last time it was the Channel Tunnel F

by EVAN DAVIS
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

This column is becoming obsessed with trains. Last time it was the Channel Tunnel Fast Link. Now I find myself thinking about the woes of the West Coast Main Line.

If the rebuilding of the 400-mile line is going to cost pounds 13 billion, as has been suggested, then it works out at about pounds 30 million a mile.

At that price, we could probably replace the entire track with a magnetic levitation train that would travel at 250 miles per hour, rather than 125 or 140. The Maglev, as you undoubtedly know, is an elevated train that is lifted by magnetic force and runs without wheels or friction.

It is quiet and efficient and, even better, it actually works. The Germans already have a test track running one at 250mph.

The Maglev has particular advantages. If we had one, it would allow us to cock a snoop at the French, as our trains would go faster than theirs.

(That's easily worth pounds 13 billion on its own.) And, as Maglev trains are driven by an electric current flowing in a particular direction, it is impossible for trains to have a head-on collision. Given the poor record of train safety in this country, that seems like a big plus as well.

Yet policy-makers in this country have not been well disposed to Maglevs, presumably thinking we should learn to walk before we try to run. It's a pity, because it means China will be the first country to run one on a high-profile route - from Shanghai airport to downtown.

This opens in 2004, and trains will make the 20-mile journey in seven minutes, not much longer than it takes to get from the south terminal to the north terminal at Gatwick.

If it's too late to replace the West Coast line with a Maglev, perhaps we should consider building one between Heathrow and Stansted, which would make the two airports act more or less as one, and would save us the considerable cost of constructing a new runway in Hounslow, as we could build the extra capacity at Stansted far more easily. Or is this too sensible an idea for transport policy in this country to pursue?

Nice to see Alan Greenspan coming to Britain as a special guest to cut the ribbon on the freshly reconstructed Treasury offices. I'd wanted to do a TV news report about the new Treasury office, under the headline 'PFI Project Works'. But the Treasury was reluctant to let our cameras into its new open-plan offices for this purpose. Maybe it was saving up the occasion for the official opening with Greenspan.

He is, of course, the man reported to have said: 'If I seem unduly clear, you must have misunderstood what I said.' Hardly the most lasting testimony to clear and transparent government. And despite his formidable reputation, he also oversaw the world's biggest boom and bust of the past decade.

The more one thinks about it, the less one can see why Gordon Brown has chosen him of all people to secure celebrity endorsement.

I found myself trying to buy one of those Times Atlas of the World books at my local Waterstone's the other day. They didn't have any, the man explained, because they'd all been stolen.

Have you ever tried to pick up a Times Atlas of the World? How anyone can walk out of a shop carrying a copy without being noticed I fail to understand. Maybe they should come with alarms attached.

I don't get much pleasure from reading telephone books, but I've always found the Yellow Pages quite entertaining. Look at the ridiculous clustering of company names starting with the letter A or digit 0 for example. Names like 0000000010001AAAAAAll Area Services Ltd, in my local edition, obviously designed to come first among equals in the plumbing category. I've always been surprised that the nice Yellow Pages people don't exert more editorial control over the corporate titles they allow into their book.

But then maybe the authors of the directory have been directing their editorial efforts at the odd piece of hidden humour. My favourite was always the category 'Boring', under which was written: 'See Civil Engineers'.

Alas, this gem has been removed from the latest edition - I'm told because civil engineers found it derogatory. Maybe the editors should invent some new ones. Just to get them started, may I suggest 'Creative Writing (see Estate Agents)'; 'Rubbish Collection (see Tabloid Newspapers)' or even 'Telecoms Companies (see Debt Counselling)'.

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