SCOTTISH Secretary Alistair Carmichael yesterday accused SNP transport minister Keith Brown of “pitiful” behaviour after he questioned the UK government’s commitment to extending HS2 to Scotland.
However, Mr Carmichael refused to make any commitment to extending the proposed high-speed rail line across the Border as the ministers launched a joint study into how to cut journey times from London to three hours.
UK rail minister and fellow Liberal Democrat Baroness Kramer, who accompanied Mr Carmichael, said the study would look at options to upgrade existing lines as well as extending HS2 across the Border.
Mr Brown criticised the pair for failing to commit to extending the line to Scotland, and their “slow progress” over the issue.
A draft report is due to be completed by next July, which will examine whether HS2 should be extended north from Manchester and/or Leeds, or whether the east and/or west coast main lines should be upgraded, or a combination of both.
HS2 – which would follow HS1, the Channel Tunnel rail link – is due to be completed from London to the Birmingham area in 2026 and Manchester and Leeds in 2033.
High-speed trains would continue to Scotland using existing lines, taking four hours in 2026 and three hours 38 minutes in 2033. The fastest current Edinburgh-London train takes four hours, with others averaging four-and-a-half hours.
The quickest London-Glasgow train is four hours eight minutes, with others averaging four hours 30 or 40 minutes.
Baroness Kramer declined to say how much extending the line north was likely to cost, or who would pay for it.
She said: “Let’s take a look at what the study says first. We have learned the dangers of jumping the gun.”
Mr Carmichael said: “You will only get high-speed rail to Scotland once you have delivered the Y-shape to Manchester and Leeds. Getting it to Scotland is the next piece of the jigsaw.”
But Mr Brown said Mr Carmichael should “put Scotland at top of his to-do list” and commit to bringing the line across the Border now.
He said the Scottish Government would contribute to the cost of a high-speed line, but how much of the route it would pay for had yet to be decided.
Mr Brown said former UK transport secretary Justine Greening had agreed to the study at the beginning of last year. He said: “It is disappointing it has taken this long.”
He also reaffirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to building a Y-shape high-speed line between Edinburgh and Glasgow by 2024 that could link up with HS2 somewhere like Carstairs in Lanarkshire, despite the cost still being unknown.
A Scottish Government- commissioned study in 2007 put the cost at £7 billion.
The minister said a business case for that project was due to be completed in the spring.