When I was in my early 20s, my younger brother went out and bought a Ferrari 308 GTB — just like Magnum’s, except in blue. It was the fastest thing on the road. That summer, he and I tore around Spain like Mr Toad, and had the time of our lives. It took a few more years for my other brother to get his Porsche 911, but, when he did, he was worse. They both drove like loonies.
How I lived through those years I will never know. We had several horrific accidents, though the scars they left are only mental. That’s why I have never learnt to drive, and probably never will.
I explain all of this to come clean that my hostility to the car is not a virtuous act of sacrificial eco-friendliness. I simply hate cars. Furthermore, I get on fine without driving. Yes, my wife drives. And there are some journeys — especially with three children and all the junk that goes with them — that you wouldn’t want to make by train. And I accept it’s easier in the city with access to good public transport. None the less, it’s perfectly possible to be car-less. It’s even liberating.
When others start going on about clamping or parking tickets, I glaze over. When dinner-party bores get worked up by congestion charging or road tax, I remain calm and indifferent. The open road might once have been a symbol of freedom, but our clogged-up highways have become open prisons, full of stuffy metal boxes going nowhere. This is a form of imprisonment on which we spend a great deal of our income. We must be mad.
What’s worse is the number of people that cars kill. The war on Iraq is a national scandal, but the numbers killed there are dwarfed by the numbers killed by cars. In this country, on average, ten people are killed every day in road accidents. Don’t skip by that statistic too quickly: every day, ten people. If that’s the figure for deaths, imagine the number of those who are left permanently disabled.
Finally, there’s the cost to our planet. Cars are the world’s single largest source of the poisonous greenhouse gas carbon monoxide. Whatever way you cut it, cars are a moral scandal.
So let’s help to glamorise trains. Surely that’s part of the Church of England’s traditional job. The Revd Wilbert Awdry’s wonderful creation Thomas the Tank Engine has my son glued to the television. It’s an infatuation which I want him to continue. Wilbert Awdry died ten years ago last month. May he rest in peace.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney. His most recent book is Christianity with Attitude (Canterbury Press, £9.99 (CT Bookshop £9); 978-1-85311-782-4).