High-speed rail line plan back on track
ALISTAIR DARLING has ordered his Department of Transport officials to make a serious assessment of building a new high-speed rail line to carry passengers from London to Edinburgh in less than three hours.
Previously, the 33 billion cost of the new link between the Scottish and English capitals had been considered too expensive.
But now Transport Secretary and Edinburgh Central MP Mr Darling has had a rethink about the cost and benefits of the 186mph north-south line which would rival France’s high-speed TGV.
He revealed the change of heart in a major speech to a DoT conference yesterday.
He called for detailed work on the planned link, telling rail industry bosses that the Government had got the railways under control and that its reforms were beginning to pay off in terms of reduced costs and improving punctuality. He revealed that the railways were now busier than at any time since 1959 despite the network being a third smaller.
Britain has the fastest-growing railway in Europe, carrying more than a billion passengers last year.
Mr Darling said: "We need to look ahead at how demand for rail might develop over the next ten to 20 years.
"That means looking at additional capacity including the possibility of high-speed services to the north and south."
Two years ago a report by the Strategic Rail Authority suggested the new link was vital because the West Coast main line would be close to breaking point by 2015 and a major upgrade of the East Coast mainline would cost billions and cause massive disruption.
Mr Darling said he was now dusting off that study and ordering his officials to look at how long it would take to pay back the costs.
Under the SRA blueprint the new line would run parallel to the existing East Coast main line out of London but then go to the West Midlands. There would be a branch to Manchester and the main line would go via Leeds and the north-east of England to Edinburgh. The final bill would be about 33bn.
Almost two hours would be knocked off the trip from London to Edinburgh, cutting the journey time over 400 miles to two hours and 35 minutes.
A 5bn upgrade of the East Coast main line could be abandoned in order to reinvest the cash in the new high-speed line.
However, it is thought the lion’s share of the cost would be expected to come from the private sector.
Anthony Smith, director of the Rail Passengers Council, said: "It would play a key role in the regeneration of northern cities. Faster access would help break down the north-south economic divide.
"Passengers would be willing to pay a premium for such a service and this should make it easier to fund."
But shadow transport secretary Tim Yeo questioned whether the plan would ever see the light of day. "How can they be trusted to deliver a high-speed link when we still have no firm decision on Crossrail or the East Coast main line upgrade?" he said.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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