HS2: Why Boris Johnson should bring high-speed rail to Scotland – Scotsman comment

The HS2 rail project has already proved to be hugely controversial for a variety of reasons including the vast costs, the route and the environmental damage caused by construction of miles of new track.

HS2 trains would cut Scotland-London journeys to three hours 38 minutes but Transport Scotland wants them reduced to three hours. (Picture: Siemens/PA Wire)
HS2 trains would cut Scotland-London journeys to three hours 38 minutes but Transport Scotland wants them reduced to three hours. (Picture: Siemens/PA Wire)

However, there is another problem that will become blindingly obvious to everyone travelling by train from Scotland to England and vice versa once services start running. Because after hurtling across the landscape at speeds of up to 250mph between London and Leeds, those heading further north will notice a dramatic reduction in speed.

As things stand, “high speed” will only be available between London and three destinations in the north of England: Leeds, Manchester and Wigan. The effect of this will be to reduce journey times from Edinburgh and Glasgow to London from more than four hours to just under three hours 40 minutes.

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However, if a new high-speed line was built between Newcastle and Edinburgh, this would halve the journey time between those two cities to just 45 minutes and a trip to London would take just three hours. A high-speed line between Carstairs and the edge of Glasgow would cut London trips to three hours ten minutes.

According to Transport Scotland high-speed rail project manager Alastair Young, a three-hour journey time would enable rail to “really compete with airlines”.

Amid the rise in support for independence, Boris Johnson has spoken about his desire to demonstrate the benefits of the United Kingdom to people in Scotland.

If Scotland is included in this expensive, high-profile project that would be a tangible sign of just how much it is valued by the UK government.

It would have a beneficial economic effect and would also significantly reduce the considerable carbon emissions produced by air travel by providing a more environmentally friendly alternative.

And it would, almost literally, bring Scotland and England closer together. If it takes just three hours to get to London, the number of people travelling is likely to increase and greater social interaction will only build a greater sense of unity.

If Johnson is serious about the Union, there are few better ways of showing it than including Scotland in this scheme.

However, if Scotland is excluded from HS2, travellers may find themselves pondering the Westminster government’s priorities as the train slows from 250mph to about half that speed.

The cost of high-speed rail in Scotland would be significant, but Johnson has shown a willingness to spend big on major infrastructure projects – as evidenced by his support for a bridge linking Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This is an idea that shows he has the vision to come up with grand ideas, although this particular one may run into practical difficulties and has not perhaps been met with an over-abundance of enthusiasm from the public.

Surely a better plan would be to save the money that would have been spent on the bridge and bring high-speed rail to Scotland instead.

Given the potential saving of carbon emissions, this would be a feather in Johnson’s cap as he seeks to impress US President-elect Joe Biden, who has made clear that the fight against climate change is one of his top priorities.

HS2 has the potential to revolutionise transport in Britain. From Johnson’s own point of view, excluding Scotland is a mistake – politically, economically and environmentally.

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