I need to get from London to Sheffield on 3rd October and I ideally need to arrive by 0900. Shouldn’t be too hard? Think again.

Maybe I am just too used to Eurostar that can get me from Brussels via Lille at 300km/h and allow me to arrive at London St Pancras at 0756 in the morning, plus I am used to paying £54 return for my Eurostar tickets if I book a month in advance. It seems impossible to find anything comparable for a journey in the UK.

First of all the earliest direct train stops in those well known urban centres Wellingborough and Long Eaton and hence takes more than 3 hours to get to Sheffield. The quickest route is from Kings Cross, changing at Wakefield Westgate, arrives at 0851 but that one seems impossible to book – the slick looking but complex to decipher National Express East Coast website initially tells me there are advanced single tickets still available for £10, but then it tells me on the next screen there are none left, and there are no options between £10 and a standard single that costs a huge £78.20. Almost £80 for a cranky train that can do just 200km/h? Are they mad?

In the end I booked a ticket changing in Doncaster and Rotherham Central getting me to Sheffield at 0901 – not exactly comfortble, and fraught with the danger of connecting trains being missed. But that’s a danger I’m going to have to live with. The train back to London is direct at least.

Earlier this month Policy Exchange drew howls of derision from across the political spectrum in the UK when they argued that northern cities were beyond revival. If every town in the north of England could be connected by train to London with a maximum journey time of 2 hours with trains in both directions arriving before 0900 imagine what you could do… But until then it’s better to move to northern France or Belgium as getting to London from there is easier and more pleasant.

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