Wednesday, August 24, 2005

L’Exception Francaise (posted by Al.)

L’Exception Francaise.

As a teenager living in the outskirts of Paris in the 70s I can remember when the machines came digging. I would hang off the Terrasse de St Germain as huge great things pushed slowly in, as the engineers popping in and out of the tunnels with their cool sideburns, consulted their plans. I remember their sideburns. And then after the engineers, hundreds of workers.

Meanwhile I was at boarding school in England, but when I returned later that year to my home outside St Germain en Laye, what a change! For some reason, that line used to have rubber tires, which gave it a particular smell.The Reseau Express Regional line from the Gare de Lyon and the Etoile came to my local station. From the suburbs to the centre of the city in 20 minutes. It seemed very impressive.

And now, as I take advantage of a particularly felicitous French transport node. The St Exupery/TGV station at Lyon, for example, I think back to the vision of those French transport planners and engineers and wonder why we in Britain can’t do the same.

Thameslink and Crossrail were meant to be the RER equivalents. The first happened, on a very low-key basis. The latter might happen in ten years’ time.

It really is a vision thing. And it is so important. Without proper infrastructure modern economic and cultural life cannot spread wings. And when Gordon Brown’s moronic PPP solutions for the underground come home to roost, we’re going to be stuffed for a generation.

Why are we so stupid? Why do we tolerate this crap when we see different effective solutions in France?

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