Race to spend £27bn on Scotland to England rail link 'without knowing facts'
MINISTERS are dashing headlong towards paying for a £27 billion high-speed rail link from Scotland to England with only "shaky" evidence that it will get people out of cars and planes, a major report will claim today.
The study, commissioned by the RAC Foundation, says there will be only modest environmental benefits from a new line. It also concludes not enough work has yet been done to see whether the vast cost would be better spent on other areas of transport, such as work to relieve road congestion.
The foundation said "evangelical" politicians of all colours were being too hasty in backing a new high-speed link before the hard facts were known.
But sources at the Department for Transport said the claims were "nonsense", insisting that a new link would take thousands of people off polluting planes.
If the line is built, trains would run from London to Glasgow in two and a quarter hours, stopping in Birmingham and Manchester, according to Network Rail. Under initial plans, the first section, as far north as Birmingham, would open in 2020.
Construction of the line would be among the biggest projects carried out in Britain, requiring the laying of 1,500 miles of rails and sleepers as well as the construction of 138 bridges.
The RAC report, written by transport expert Professor John Preston, examined all the evidence so far, and concluded there were still huge gaps.
Prof Preston said the green benefits would be marginal at best, and that as many as a fifth of all those travelling on the line would be "induced" journeys – people who would not have travelled if the line was not there.
He added that not enough work had been done to see whether putting the investment into other transport projects would be more beneficial.
The foundation said that, for example, for the cost of the new line, ministers could help motorists buy new low-emission vehicles.
RAC Foundation director Stephen Glaister said: "Many politicians are almost evangelical in their support of high-speed rail. But they must be careful not to let their zeal be dictated by uncritical enthusiasm rather than hard facts."
Mr Glaister said that the company set up by the government to assess the scheme – known as HS2 – had yet to report back.
He added: "In a world where every penny counts, there are big questions to be asked about whether billions of pounds lavished on high-speed rail would be money well spent, or whether it should instead be directed towards other types of transport.
"If the case for high-speed rail is being made on environmental grounds, then this seems at best shaky."
Previous transport ministers have questioned the project's value for money, but current Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has enthusiastically backed the plan.
High-speed rail has also been supported by the SNP government in Edinburgh.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
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Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east