Britain's railways have repeatedly ground to a halt in recent years due to industrial action.
CNN  — 

Barely a day goes by without railways making the headlines in Britain.

Industrial unrest, crumbling infrastructure, rising costs, a wildly unpopular government plan to close station ticket offices, staff shortages, late-running trains and the chaos around a money-burning project to build the so-called High Speed 2 (HS2) rail line – it feels like an industry on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

As the 200th anniversary of the world’s first public railway – opened between Stockton and Darlington in northeast England in 1825 - approaches, Britain’s railways are in turmoil.

While some governments across the world invest billions to reset and de-carbonize travel habits in a post-Covid world, the UK’s Department for Transport is, even as trains bulge at the seams, axing key projects, train services and sidelining much-needed trains to save money.

Congestion, neglected Victorian infrastructure and frequent strikes are eating away at the British public’s deep-rooted affection for rail travel.

Meanwhile, essential legislation to restructure the UK railway industry – under a plan published in 2021 - has been kicked down the road by an increasingly pro-car prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

Industry morale is at its lowest point for decades, says highly respected ex-railway managing director Michael Holden. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Sunak’s right wing Conservative government has pulled the rug out from under the controversial and vastly over-budget HS2 project.

Death of a mega-project

HS2's construction costs have escalated, adding to the project's controversy.

HS2 was originally meant to connect London with the northerly cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds in the name of trying to reduce the UK’s north-south economic divide. The Leeds link has already been scrapped, but this week Sunak cancelled the Manchester line.

The announcement on Wednesday sparked a furious reaction from lawmakers and business leaders outside London, as well as many from the prime minister’s own party.