Minister urges speedy action to introduce inter-city bullet train
PLANNING should start now for a "bullet train" between Edinburgh and Glasgow even though the project is at least a decade away, the transport minister signalled yesterday.
In the clearest show of support by an Executive minister so far, Nicol Stephen said a high-speed rail link would help give Scotland a world-class transport system which would make it the envy of other countries.
Mr Stephen also pledged Executive funding for feasibility studies into the scheme, which is estimated to cost between 1.5 billion and 4 billion.
Bullet trains, which could cut east-west journeys to 30 minutes, would probably need to run on dedicated tracks because of congestion on the existing three lines.
The minister stressed the scheme was a long-term project that did not feature in the Executive’s immediate transport plans, which include rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports, and upgrading Waverley station in the capital.
However, he said upgrading rail links between Scotland’s two largest cities was the type of "blue sky" thinking needed to boost the transport network further.
Mr Stephen told a business lunch organised by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce: "It would be wrong to raise expectations about this over the next five to ten years, because it is very difficult to get a dramatic increase in speed on the current line.
"But we should start to discuss such projects and move them on. I would like us to think big for Scotland so we can have a world-class transport system we can be proud of. Current projects should not be the end, but the beginning of an exciting new phase for transport in Scotland."
Mr Stephen said later that regional transport bodies such SESTRAN in the east of Scotland and WESTRANS in the west should consider the scheme when devising their new planning blueprints.
He said: "I would like to see them looking at it. We would certainly provide funding for feasibility or early-stage studies. I do not want to give the impression that this is something that can be delivered early, but we need to look to such ‘blue sky’ projects."
The minister’s comments follow his acknowledgement this summer that the forthcoming transfer of more powers over rail to the Executive will "significantly enhance" its ability to complete such schemes.
He said: "If we decide to support these projects, the structure will allow us to deliver them in a more effective and streamlined way."
Bullet trains have already attracted the support of a range of key figures in the rail industry, including Moir Lockhead, the chief executive of FirstGroup, which took over ScotRail last month.
Mr Lockhead has said an upgraded Edinburgh-Glasgow line should be considered in the next ten to 15 years.
He said: "There has to be a point in the long-term plans for rail in Scotland where we start to think beyond the present relatively slow network."
Chris Green, the chairman of Virgin Trains, is also a big fan. He laid the groundwork for the Edinburgh-Glasgow scheme when he ran ScotRail in the 1980s and has said nothing would stop it going ahead if the rail industry gets its act together.
Bullet trains, or Shinkansen, have been running in Japan for 40 years and reach 187mph.
They are matched in the UK only by Eurostar services on the first section of the Channel Tunnel rail link in Kent, which is due to be completed in 2007.
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