PRESSURE today mounted on Westminster to include Scotland from the outset in a new UK high speed rail network, after a report backed the move.
The 34 billion project would cut journey times from London to Glasgow and Edinburgh to just over two hours, according to transport body Network Rail.
The UK Government has already announced plans for a link between London and Birmingham – with an option to extend to Scotland – and Transport Minister Lord Adonis said today that detailed plans for this will be submitted later this year.
But political and business leaders insisted that Scotland must be a part of the project from the start.
Scottish Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said: "We have long advocated the need for high speed links from Europe and London not to stop at Leeds but to continue north to Scotland."
A business case is being prepared for ministers in Edinburgh to advance the case for high speed rail to be extended north of the border.
"It is important to stress that high speed cross-border rail routes to both Glasgow and Edinburgh should connect with the existing network in Scotland to ensure all parts of the country benefit," Mr Stevenson added.
Brendan Dick, general manager of BT in Scotland, is spearheading a Scottish Chambers of Commerce campaign to ensure the high speed link includes Scotland.
"The inclusion of Scotland as a destination from the outset is vital," he said today.
"Our major concern is that Scotland should be included in the construction programme from the outset."
Today's plans would see trains travelling at 200mph, journey times between London and Glasgow of two hours and 16 minutes and to Edinburgh of two hours and nine minutes.
The line would run from central London, via Birmingham, Manchester, Warrington, Liverpool and Preston to Glasgow and Edinburgh, but could take over 10 years to build.
Lib Dem Scottish affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: "Any plans for high speed rail must benefit the entire UK, including Scotland.
"It is welcome that Network Rail appears to have recognised this."
Labour's Scottish transport spokesman Des McNulty added: "The Scottish Government needs to start looking at how high speed rail can be taken forward now.
"The line should be built simultaneously at both ends to give Scotland a head start in securing the link."
Alistair Watson, chairman of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) said that Scotland must be given "equal priority" in building the new network.
"High speed proposals that take us from London to Birmingham by 2020 are not good enough," he said.
"In fact proceeding with those plans will seriously disadvantage the Scottish economy."
Today's announcement from Network Rail does not necessarily mean a high-speed line will be built, but merely outlines the body's preferred option.
Network Rail had already started its study of new-line requirements before the Government set up High Speed Two (HS2) – a company that is looking into a London to Scotland high speed line via Birmingham and which will make a report to the Department for Transport by the end of this year.
Lord Adonis said today: "High Speed 2 will take full account of this work.
"They will submit a detailed route proposal to the Government by the end of this year for a line from London to the West Midlands, with options to extend the line to Scotland and the north of England."
Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said today that the Government must ensure any new network moves passengers off short haul flights and on to the trains.
"If the Government is serious about meeting tough targets for reductions in carbon emissions, then unnecessary domestic flights have to stop, and high speed rail is by far the best alternative," Mr Harvie said.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said the project could help achieve the 42% cut in emissions set out in the Scottish Climate Change Act.
"There are well over 100 short haul flights each weekday between Scottish airports and the London airports," he said today.
"A high speed rail system would improve Scotland's connection with the rest of the UK and Europe and help reduce emissions from flying."