Emma Crane: We don’t need HS2 to speed up Scottish rail travel

LIKE most of Scotland’s MPs, you probably missed Tuesday’s Westminster debate on cross-border rail. Credit to Edinburgh MP Mark Lazarowicz for focusing parliament’s attention on the part of Scotland’s railways that remains under London’s control, although it was a shame only five MPs found the time to attend.

I couldn’t help feeling the debate was a missed opportunity to ask the Minister of State for Transport some searching questions on how High Speed 2, the coalition’s flagship transport policy, will impact services to England.

Away from beguiling images of shiny new trains gliding through the Borders, there are some fundamental problems with HS2’s plans to run trains on high speed tracks from London to Birmingham and then on existing tracks to Glasgow.

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First, would HS2 actually provide faster journeys to Scotland? HS2’s proposed trains cannot tilt on corners like existing Pendolinos, meaning they would likely be slower than existing services as they travel on the curved West Coast Main Line.

Second, what about the disruption from construction? HS2 envisages Euston being demolished and rebuilt over eight years. The work, which has been compared to “performing open heart surgery on a conscious patient”, will mean travellers (including MPs) who make trips to London via rail will face years of disruption.

Third, when will improvements to existing lines begin? Journey times could be cut to three hours 30 minutes within five years through measures like new signalling, at a fraction of the cost of HS2. However, Network Rail will not commit on when such work will begin.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, a key element of HS2’s business case comes from savings achieved by cutting existing West Coast Main Line services. Someone needs to ask the coalition which Scottish services it has in mind to cut as part of these plans.

I believe our MPs need to start asking the coalition some tough questions about HS2 before it is too late.

• Emma Crane is Scotland Campaign Lead for HS2 Action Alliance, a national campaign group against the high speed line.