A MAJOR campaign to ensure a new high-speed rail network from London is extended to both Edinburgh and Glasgow is to be launched this week.
The two cities will be joining forces to try to make sure they are not left out of the long-awaited project ahead of crunch talks between the Westminster and Holyrood administrations next month.
Plans for the scheme - which was backed in the UK government's Spending Review - do not yet involve either Edinburgh and Glasgow, even though such a move would cut journey times between Scotland and London to just over two hours.
Instead, a planned route between London and Birmingham would be extended in a Y-shape, with one line running to Manchester and then connecting to the current west coast main line. The other would go via the East Midlands, South Yorkshire and Leeds, then connect to the east coast main line.
Scottish ministers believe the Con-Lib Dem coalition should commit to a UK-wide network now, rather than wait until the initial stages are up and running.
A study published last year by Network Rail, the company that runs Britain's rail infrastructure, said a London-Scotland network could cost up to 34 billion to deliver. Work on the first phase is due to start in 2015, although details of the route and costings are yet to be worked out.
Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, and Jenny Dawe, his Edinburgh counterpart, are hosting an event at Holyrood on Thursday to kick-start the campaign They will declare it is "a matter of national importance that Scotland is included in these plans from the outset" and claim Scotland faces being economically disadvantaged in comparison with major competitors elsewhere in the UK and overseas if Glasgow and Edinburgh are snubbed.
Mr Matheson said: "Ours is a case backed up by a considerable weight of evidence, a case that makes a genuinely compelling argument that Scotland must be part of the planned high-speed rail network.
"The business case for high-speed rail is strongest when the line includes Scotland. A study by Network Rail concluded that a line to Scotland will deliver some 55bn worth of revenue and benefits - a sum that would help the rail link pay for itself almost twice over."
Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: "High speed rail to Scotland is a vital part of opening up global markets.
"We understand the challenges for capital budgets at this time. The obvious solution is for the UK and Scottish governments to sit down with business and evolve a finance programme which works.Otherwise we really will be left behind."
The UK government has predicted the high speed rail network will "make rail the mode of choice" for most inter-city journeys within the UK and would change "the economic and social geography of Britain, connecting our great population centres and international gateways".
A spokesman for Transport Scotland said: "We will continue to press the UK government to ensure Scotland is involved in the planning for a UK-wide network from the outset."