SCOTLAND’s transport minister yesterday called on his Westminster counterpart to commit to a “concrete timetable”, showing when the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link will be extended north of the Border.
• The HS2 line has already been planned from London to Birmingham with extensions slated for as far as Manchester and Leeds
• £32.7 billion project will create at least 100,000 jobs
• The Northwards extension is due to be completed in 2032
Keith Brown took action, amid doubts about whether the £32.7 billion initiative will be rolled out beyond the north of England.
Mr Brown said he would continue to “press” the Department for Transport (DfT) on whether it intended to lengthen the rail link to Scotland “sooner rather than later”, and stressed that Britain stood to gain the most from including Scottish cities in the network.
On a day when Tory back-benchers joined rural communities and environmentalists in rounding on Prime Minister David Cameron, after he revealed the project’s route through northern England, Mr Brown was one of several senior figures to remind Westminster of the need to include Scotland.
The leaders of local authorities in Edinburgh and Glasgow also demanded that the line – capable of allowing trains to travel at speeds of up to 250mph – be extended to Scotland, warning the nation’s two largest cities would be at a “huge economic disadvantage” if it was not.
The DfT unveiled blueprints for the second phase of HS2, comprising five stops on the 211-mile, Y-shaped extension north of Birmingham, taking in Manchester, Manchester Airport, Toton near Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds.
The journey from Manchester to London would fall by 60 minutes to just one hour, eight minutes by 2033. Journeys from London to Glasgow or Edinburgh would take three hours and 38 minutes. This is down from four hours and eight minutes for Glasgow and four hours and 23 minutes for Edinburgh.
Mr Cameron said the extension would help to “spread wealth and prosperity” around the country, explaining: “We do need to rebalance the economy.It has been too dominated by the south and by certain industries, and high-speed rail will really help to create a better balanced economy.”
However, some Tory back-benchers have made clear they would not support “flawed” government policy. The Stop HS2 campaign has also challenged claims that the links will be good for the economies of the Midlands and the north of England, while numerous communities are angry that swathes of picturesque land will be blighted.
The first two stages of the HS2 line – from London to the West Midlands, and the newly announced spur to Manchester and Leeds – are due to be competed by 2026 and 2033 respectively. Ministers in successive governments have faced criticism over their refusal to commit to a Scottish extension since the scheme was first mooted four years ago, and fears over Scotland’s exclusion were revisited yesterday.
In its 107-page report on phase two of HS2, published yesterday, the DfT said it and the Scottish Government “share a joint vision for faster journeys which bring the constituent parts of our island closer together”, adding that it intended to take forward a study in collaboration with Transport Scotland to “consider Scotland’s aspirations for high-speed rail.”
Only last year, however, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would “not wait” for Westminster and would be “firing ahead” with its own plan tor a Glasgow to Edinburgh high-speed link, which could see 140mph trains operating as soon as 2024.
Responding to the new DfT report, Mr Brown said he had been reassured by the UK transport minister, Simon Burns, that Scotland was “very much a part” of its plans for HS2, but he would “continue to press the DfT for a concrete timetable for extending HS2 to Scotland sooner rather than later”.
He said: “The full benefits of this project can only be realised if Scotland is involved, and it looks like Westminster has
finally taken note.
“In particular, I was pleased to note … the paper recognises that Edinburgh and Glasgow currently have some of the most heavily used sections of the rail network in the UK and that bringing high-speed rail here would help to ease congestion on the network, enhance the effectiveness of the railways and improve the passenger experience.”
But shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran said the announcement did not “offer enough for people in Scotland”, arguing: “The UK government should be taking forward plans, as Labour proposed in government, that allows construction to start in the north of England as well as the south, so that Scotland can join the high-speed network sooner rather than later.”
Edinburgh council leader Andrew Burns and his counterpart in Glasgow, Gordon Matheson, joined forces to call for the line to be extended north, with the latter warning that the cities would be “cut off” from England and Europe, putting them “at a huge economic disadvantage”,
Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, warned: “By 2033, Manchester to London journey times could be reduced by 47 per cent, whereas Glasgow-London times would only fall by around 12 per cent, meaning that the benefits of high-speed rail … disproportionately favour English cities.”
The Department for Transport said there would be five stops on the 211-mile Y-shaped extension northwards from Birmingham - scheduled to be completed in 2032, six years after the first phase:
• Manchester - alongside the existing Piccadilly station;
• Manchester Airport - interchange by the M56 between Warburton Green and Davenport Green;
• East Midlands - at Toton, between Nottingham and Derby and one mile from the M1;
• Sheffield - at Meadowhall shopping centre;
• Leeds - at New Lane in the South bank area connected to the main station by walkway.
There will also be a “dedicated link” alongside the high-speed line at Crewe to link up with standard trains - reducing journey times to Liverpool and Glasgow.
But a proposed spur to Heathrow has been put on hold pending the results of Sir Howard Davies’ review of future airport capacity - which is not due to give a final report until the summer of 2015.
UK STUCK IN SLOW LANE
Supporters of HS2 often point east when asked to summarise how far Britain has fallen behind the rest of the world when it comes to high-speed rail networks.
Japan’s bullet trains began operating between Tokyo and Osaka in 1964, a year after the publication of the Beeching Report made clear that Britain’s rail network was to be significantly pared back.
There are 1,665 miles of high-speed lines in Japan, with a further 236 miles under construction, but even that pales into comparison to the vast, sprawling routes in China. There, 3,937 miles of line have been laid down, and 2,712 are under construction.
In stark contrast, Britain currently has only 70 miles of high-speed track, running from St Pancras in London to the Channel Tunnel, a legacy of the HS1 project. Critics of Britain’s reluctance to invest in its high-speed network point out that even countries such as Morocco and Saudi Arabia have more dedicated high-speed track, with 422 and 342 miles respectively.
Europe as a whole lags behind the rest of the world, but the nation with the largest network is Spain, which boasts 1,285 miles of track, set to rise to 3,453 miles after planned works.
While the HS2 route has been designed for trains capable of travelling at up to 250mph, it is understood there will be a routine maximum speed of 225mph. In China, however, the Shanghai-Maglev network – a magnetic levitation line opened in 2004 – can spirit passengers at speeds of up to 268mph.