THE prospect of the HS2 rail line reaching Scotland has faded with project chief Sir David Higgins revealing that upgrading existing routes instead would be “more realistic”.
The HS2 chairman said a range of options would be presented to the UK Government next month, and described a new line as “ambitious”.
The Scottish Government has repeatedly called for HS2 to come to Scotland.
Sir David also appeared to confirm a delay to the report into extending high-speed rail to Scotland, which has previously been denied.
He told the Commons’ transport committee that the options would be contained in an “interim report”, despite previous pledges that the final version would be completed this year.
The research was jointly commissioned with the Scottish Government last November after extensive lobbying by Scottish ministers for HS2 to be extended north of the Border from northern England.
It is due to connect London with Leeds and Manchester by 2033.
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Sir David, who is in charge of developing HS2 for the UK Government, said of the forthcoming report: “There will be a range of options, from ambitious schemes of an entirely new high-speed network or probably the more realistic ones, ones of upgrades and the staging of that.
“I think that will require a fair bit of discussion with the Scottish administration and with Transport Scotland to make sure the options put forward are supported.”
Sir David said the report would “show work in progress”. However, when the study was launched in November 2013, the UK Department for Transport said: “A final report will be submitted to the DfT next year for ministers to consider.”
Sir David said: “The department commissioned work a while ago to look at the options of bringing high-speed rail or enhancements north, and will be producing an interim report by the end of this year for the department.
“I think that will lead to further work to be done on that. “We are certainly consulting with Transport Scotland prior to that report being lodged with the department at the end of this year.”
A DfT spokeswoman said last week: “HS2 Ltd is preparing a report for the [UK] Government, to be provided to DfT by the end of 2014, on ways to make further rail capacity and journey time improvements between northern England and Scotland.
“An announcement will be made in due course, in 2015.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland being included in a high speed rail network is essential to maintain our competitiveness and support our economy, and our focus is ensuring we realise all of its benefits and that Scotland is not short-changed.
“We are currently working closely with DfT and HS2 Ltd on a study for bringing high speed here which is expected to report this year on the options available. This will form the basis for further discussions on a way ahead.”
Alex Macaulay, chair of the High Speed Scotland Group said: “It is encouraging that HS2 Ltd will be reporting to ministers before the end of the year on the case for high-speed rail north of Manchester and Leeds to Scotland.
“It is essential that Scotland becomes part of a UK-wide high-speed rail network, if it is not to be left behind in terms of accessibility and potential for economical development.
“A new high-speed rail network should provide additional capacity and journey times between Scotland’s central belt and London of under three hours to capture a significant share of the current domestic air market and ensure the ongoing well-being of the Scottish economy”.
Paul Tetlaw, a board member of sustainable transport campaigners Transform Scotland, said: “The priority should be upgrading the classic [existing] lines to the south.
“This has the twin benefit that existing journeys can be speeded up and new high-speed trains will be able to travel from HS2 to Scotland.
“Trains currently running on the east and west coast main lines are capable of 140mph but the maximum line speed is only 125mph.
“Improvements are needed now whatever the outcome of HS2 studies.”
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