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Cameron backs high speed railway

Government support for the proposed high speed line from London to Birmingham and the north is hardening. This is unfortunate. The case is based on spurious arguments about the need to increase capacity. There is indeed a shortage of capacity at the London end of the West Coast Main Line – from about Rugby southwards, but this could be increased by upgrading existing routes and reinstating lines that were closed in the 1960s, and by running longer trains. The arguments against this obvious strategy are false. If the aim is to increase capacity, there are more cost-effective ways of doing it than building a high speed railway.

Government commentators are also talking about the value of a high speed railway in bridging the north-south divide. There is of course no guarantee that the line would have this effect. It could suck even more commercial activity into London and the South East. But the easiest way to bridge the north-south divide is through a differential tax system which places less of a burden on locations distant from the great centres of population. For example, by replacing existing taxes by a tax based on the rental value of land.