Three years ago, my son and I travelled to Pompei.

Being unable to resist a sense of adventure we made the 26 hour journey by train, going via London, Paris, Milan, Rome and Naples. It was a great way of seeing a bit of France and Italy and also a way of comparing the high speed train systems of different countries. In France and Italy, 200 mph trains took us in comfort between stations. The seats were comfortable and the fares were reasonable. They compared very well to the expensive service from Bridgend to London with its temperamental air condition and hard seats.

Cars will always have the advantage for short journeys in in rural areas, but if we are serious about cutting transport emissions simply making it more difficult to drive will never work.

We also need to invest in our transport networks and in that regard the UK is way behind the best in Europe. Trains are expensive, the ticketing system labyrinthine and track speeds are slow.

READ MORE: First passenger trains expected to run next year in Corwen

Part of the problem lies in the “loading gauge” of our railways. In short this means that we have too many curves and tunnels that are too low. Our infrastructure is Victorian, designed for far slower trains and we haven’t invested in new lines to overcome these hurdles.

Overcrowding on long distance trains is overcome elsewhere by laying on double decker carriages. That can’t happen here because of the tunnels. They speeded up trains by building straighter tracks, something that hasn’t happened here.

There is a certain type of British mentality that tries to get the most out of existing machines or infrastructure. That’s exactly what’s happening with the trains. Trying to increase capacity and speeds on ancient lines without spending the money on doing the job properly by building new lines.

In France and Italy the trains have pretty much eliminated the need to fly short distances. Their services are fast, comfortable, reliable and cheap because they’ve invested in their railways.

READ MORE: Welsh Government 'hypocrisy' over Gwynedd road

This is why I’m a fan of building high speed rail networks. There are those who will argue that we don’t need them, and that our existing systems can take the strain. I disagree. It’s a bit like saying that there’s no need to tarmac an existing road because it already has cobbles on it.

You will never attract people in sufficient numbers out of their cars on longer journeys unless you modernise the system and that hasn’t been done properly.

We are seeing positive changes in Wales though. For years, when our trains were run from London, people had to put up with elderly rolling stock, without air conditioning, that were boiling hot in the summer and had condensation running down the windows in winter. They were damp and overcrowded. Things are beginning to change and Transport for Wales has exciting plans for the future. They have recognised that journeys have to be more comfortable, with larger, well-ventilated trains that are reliable and greener through their use of electricity as motive power.

The Welsh railway have seen decades of underinvestment. We attract only 1% of UK rail funding despite having 4% of the population, yet Whitehall has refused to devolve the railways properly with a Barnett share of funding. There is still work to be done and things cannot change overnight but at least we’re now on the right track.

There might also be opportunities to reopen closed lines in the long term, but we shouldn’t underestimate the cost of doing so. Reopening short sections of track in the Valleys is a challenge but it pales into insignificance compared to the challenge of restoring some of the long distance lines. So many lines were closed in the 1960s and 1970s including the Ruabon-Barmouth line and the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth line, both of which were important arteries.

READ MORE: Coastal rail route closed until end of December for engineering works

I remember trains still running from the Aeron Valley through Bridgend although they carried milk rather than people. The line north to Aberystwyth had been closed in 1964 but most of the line was intact until 1973 when the trains stopped running. Despite protests, the tracks were ripped up with unseemly haste, almost as an act of spite. There’s no doubt in my mind that had that line been left in place then we could have restored the line to Aberystwyth and run trains on it. The cost of doing so now is enormous, probably in excess of £1bn.

So many mistakes were made in the past, but if Britain wants to get serious about reducing carbon emissions though transport then it needs electric cars, it needs buses running on hydrogen and above all it needs a proper, modern rail network.

You can’t reasonably say to people that they must get out of their cars when the alternative is a pricey, busy train. A family of four would take a lot of persuading to swap the car for a long journey and pay a lot more for a train that is often a slower option. Encouragement and incentives are needed rather than waving a stick at people.

To do that, the UK has to up its game on rail, and so far the signs aren’t good.

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.