While we build HS2 which will travel at 250mph the Japenese are building a maglev train that will travel at 312mph.
Connectivity with the existing network and compliance with European track requirements are two reasons cited for not opting for maglev technology but I believe we shouldn't be talking about one line (HS1 is basically an upgrade to the Eurotunnel link and is already operating whilst HS3 proposed by Osborne turns out to just be a faster - about 130mph - direct service between Liverpool and Leeds rather than a proper High Speed line). We need to set out a proper 30 or 40 year plan to build a High Speed rail network connecting all parts of the country and we should do it with a new, maglev service. The EU issue could then be overcome because we could argue for an exemption in the name of innovation and also explain that it doesn't directly connect with the main rail system but is instead a complimentary network which happens to (for obvious reasons) utilise the same stations.
Some argue that the Japanese system is more expensive but that's largely because 90% of the line will be built underground (so it can short cut under mountains - we could do the same to deal with nimbyism and some legitimate concerns around effects on the countryside). There is an upside to its higher building costs - because maglev trains floor above the track (magnetic levitation) there is no friction meaning the cost of maintenance is lower.
A final reason cited against maglev is that it's unproven over long distances. This is true but the Japanese have heavily tested the technology and are confident that it will work for a longer distance than London to Manchester. They are even offering to build a line between Washington DC and Boston below cost in order to demonstrate its capabilities in the hope that U.S. States will order further lines from them once they see what it can do. Our Victorian ancestors would shudder at how Britain became so risk averse and refuses to utilise our world class engineers and scientists to enter the proper High Speed rail race with our own maglev line.
So why am I mad for maglev? Because HS2 will connect London to Manchester in an impressive 1 hour 8 minutes. Maglev would do it in 48 minutes. That 20 minute difference might not sound worth the fuss but think about how many places are within a 20 minute train or tram ride of Manchester City centre? Suddenly those places become commutable distance to London.
Some who argue against HS2 argue that it will suck growth from regions and into already prosperous London. They are missing two points. First, growing regional economies isn't something that is magically done by a railway line it's done by investment plus long-term focus on schools and skills etc., in other words the North needs more than a railway line to support growth it needs a wider plan. Secondly, where a line would help is if people can access careers in high earning London jobs without moving from Manchester or Leeds and can instead commute and bring back their London wages to spend in Manchester and Leeds thus creating more jobs in entertainment, leisure, retail etc.
Maglev would spread those benefits out more widely so that larger parts of Greater Manchester not just central Manchester are within commutable distance of London. Likewise with Leeds.
The earlier stops on the HS2 routes get even more benefit from maglev which would be able to do London to Birmingham in just 27 minutes compared with HS2's 45. That would put whole chunks of the West Midlands within commutable distance of London.
But we shouldn't stop there. We should set out this 30-40 year grand plan to make the geographical gaps between our increasingly divided country much smaller. We need to ensure new maglev lines from London and Birmingham respectively to Cornwall and South Wales. From North Wales to South Wales and bringing Newcastle, Glasgow, Hull, Norwich, Edinburgh and even Belfast (we'd need a Channel Tunnel style connection) into this super grid of high speed rail.
Imagine London to Edinburgh in just 90 minutes? Imagine how that would put domestic flights out of business and thus help us achieve our carbon emission targets. Every way you look at maglev is seems to be yes the radical choice but also the most sensible long-term.
If I'm on the National Policy Forum I will be arguing for Labour's policy to be to call for HS2 to be built using maglev technology before it's too late and propose a national network of maglev lines that would connect all the major conurbations of the UK.