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Journey times by car and rail

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If it is completed, the new high-speed rail service, HS2, will be the fastest rail service in the UK, promising to reduce the journey time between London and Birmingham to less than one hour.

London can currently be reached in 1 hour 12 minutes from Birmingham New Street, a journey that would have taken around an hour longer in both 1908 and 1948. Despite the development of steam locomotion capable of speeds approaching those of modern trains (the LNER Mallard reached 125mph in 1938), the railway infrastructure was unable to support safe operation at such velocity and, until the mid-1970s, the British railway speed limit remained at 100mph.

Nonetheless, the train remained the only sensible means of travelling at speed from Birmingham to the 1908 Games. If the most well-heeled residents of Birmingham had decided to drive to White City, it would have taken them more than five hours in a car, assuming they stuck to the speed limit of 20mph. By the time of the 1948 Games, the car was in more direct competition with the train. The Ford Anglia, though it cost almost as much as annual average earnings, was capable of 60mph: journey times to the Games from Birmingham were around three and a half hours.

Since then, developments in manufacturing and engineering have continued to increase the speed and reduce the cost of cars. The Ford Focus now costs roughly 60% of average annual earnings and its top speed is almost twice that of the 1948 Anglia. Meanwhile, until HS2 is completed (provisionally, this will be in 2026), journey times on the train to Birmingham will remain similar to what they were in 1976.

But whether the car has now become a sensible way to travel to the Games remains open to question, especially given the location of the Olympic park in the south east of the city. The average speed for cars at peak time through central London is just 13mph, a figure that is likely to be considerably slower with the Olympic lanes in place.

Train fleet
The chart shows the fastest journey time and the number of services between London and Birmingham in each year.

 The chart shows the fastest journey time and the number of services between London and Birmingham in each year

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