The First Minister said that the Scottish Government would “not wait 30 years for high speed rail” to be delivered by Westminster and pledged to commission a feasibility study on work on HSR beginning from the north heading south, if Scotland becomes independent.
The announcement follows recent reports that the proposed third phase of the current high speed two (HS2) scheme from either Leeds or Manchester to Glasgow and Edinburgh would be ditched after a Yes vote.
Mr Salmond was addressing a St George’s Day audience in Carlisle last night as he set out plans for closer economic ties between Scotland and the north of England after independence.
“Under Westminster control, high speed rail won’t come to Carlisle for decades,” he said.
“An independent Scotland could do more. Rather than paying our share of the borrowing costs for high speed rail, as we wait decades for it to spread up from the south, we can use that money to build high speed rail from the north instead.
“It’s time to take positive action. I can confirm today that the Scottish Government will build on the joint work we are undertaking with the UK government.
“We will establish a feasibility study to explore in detail the options for building high speed rail from Scotland to England. In doing so, we will work closely with partners across the UK, especially in the north of England. Of course we can’t determine the route until we undertake the feasibility study. But it is a statement of intent.”
The UK’s only high speed rail service at the moment is the Eurostar from London to Paris via the Channel Tunnel. HS2 would see a first phase from London to Birmingham.
It would split from there to both Manchester and Leeds in phase 2. Intermediate stations in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire are also planned. If phase 3 to Scotland goes ahead, it would take more than an hour off journeys between London and Edinburgh or Glasgow –which currently take between 4 hours 15 minutes and 5 hours.
But it would add billions to the £40bn scheme which is already attracting criticism.
HS2 would see the introduction of 400m-long (1,300ft) trains with up to 1,100 seats. It would operate at speeds of up to 250mph – Eurostar, TGV and Thalys services in Europe currently hit around 185mph – and would travel up to 14 times per hour in each direction. The London-West Midlands section is expected to open in 2026 and the onwards legs to Manchester and Leeds by 2032-33.
An unnamed UK cabinet minister claimed earlier this month the extra link north of the Border was almost inconceivable in the event of a Yes vote for independence, amid concerns over the extra public investment.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said last night: “By removing Scotland from the UK [Salmond] removes Scotland of any influence over acceleration of high speed rail. HSR is not an argument for independence, it’s an argument for working together.”
Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Alex Johnstone said: “The only viable way to ensure an interconnected high speed rail between the Central Belt and England is by remaining part of the UK. If Scotland was to separate from Britain there would be no reason for the UK to move beyond the current plan of Leeds and Manchester.”