Popping Radio 4 on while cooking the Sunday roast, my ears pricked up at the mention of east Kent.
The focus was on HS1 and an assessment four years on of what those nice shiny blue Javelin trains have done for our local economy.
For any listener west of the River Medway, the point was to assess the benefits that might be expected from the controversial London to Birmingham HS2 route.
The report started with the depressing fact that the journey from London to Margate was faster in 1927 than on the Javelin trains that proclaim to be the Britain’s fastest.
The reporter proceeded to interview a transport official from Kent County Council. The officer was having none of it: That journey in 1927 was in fact a special tourist train rather than the regular commuter line. And, yes, our local economy is doing very nicely because of the new train service, thank you very much.
So where’s the evidence that the train service has helped the economy, enquired the reporter. Someone should be assigned to gather the data, responded our council man.
Has anyone been assigned to collate this data? Er, no.
So how do you know the economy is being helped by the train service, probed the Paxmanesque hack. Or is this just your own feeling?
Oh no, no. This is based on several businesses saying they moved to the area because of the faster train service, insisted our man, without identifying the businesses in question.
In case the point was missed, the officer made it clear that KCC has been a big supporter of HS1.
The reporter was unconvinced by our local experiment. He concluded that HS2 supporters were in for a tough time winning over the public.
East Kent’s business community has reason to be equally skeptical. If you happen to live in Canerbury, the service is marvelous. If you’re in Whitstable or Herne Bay the chances are you’re paying vastly inflated fares for a shinier, posher train but with little real difference on the journey time.
The reason is we have trains with the ability to go at the speed of lightening traveling on tracks that haven’t been upgraded in donkey’s years. The Ferrari of the locomotives is crawling behind the old donkey and cart because there’s no room to overtake on the track.
That vintage journey down to Margate in 1927 was faster than today’s commuter train presumably because it went non-stop through Kent. Our new trains go speeding from London to Ebbsfleet but can’t pick up speed the rest of the journey because they’re having to stop at every station.
Over in Essex the trains are more the family hatchback than Ferrari but the services run faster by alternating the stations on each route. For the local commuter, this means fewer services (though still more frequent than our trains) but the big gain is in the journey time.
With the fifth anniversary next year, KCC should commission an independent assessment of the impact of HS1 on our economy. Rather than defending the service, councillors should look at how the service can better serve our local economy.
Tweet me @julesserkin Tune in to The Business Bunker 1-2.30pm LIVE every Tuesday www.channelradio.co.uk or attend a Tweetup www.KentBusinessTweetup.co.uk Canterbury, Whitstable, Faversham or Ashford. Listen to The SCOFF & QUAFF show Live Tuesdays 11-12 Food news for Kent.