Come clean over high-speed Edinburgh-Glasgow rail link cost, ministers are told

Gordon Matheson, Network Rail boss David Simpson and Nicola Sturgeon at yesterday's launch. Picture: Mark Mainz
Gordon Matheson, Network Rail boss David Simpson and Nicola Sturgeon at yesterday's launch. Picture: Mark Mainz
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LABOUR last night demanded to know why ministers had not come clean over the cost of an Edinburgh-Glasgow high-speed rail line since they had previously rejected a scheme because of its £7 billion price tag.

Deputy First Minister and infrastructure secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced plans on Monday to build a new route between the cities within 12 years, but refused to say how much it might cost.

However, consultants appointed by the Scottish Government in 2007 said it would cost at least £7bn and be poorer value for money than upgrading the existing main line.

The cost is more than four times that of the £1.6bn Forth Replacement Crossing, with Scotland’s biggest construction project for a generation already straining government finances.

Completing the line by 2024 also puts it on a similar timescale to the Scottish Government’s commitment to the £3bn dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness by 2025.

Ministers significantly scaled back the planned upgrade of the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line in July. This reduced the budget by one-third to £650 million, with journey times cut from 
50 minutes to only 42 minutes in 2016, compared to the planned 37 minutes.

The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said only that a high-speed line would reduce this to under 30 minutes, although the 2007 report said it could be 27 minutes.

Labour infrastructure spokesman Richard Baker said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement on high-speed rail was high on hyperbole but devoid of detail, and now there are even more questions for her to answer.

“Why did she say that the Scottish Government did not have costings for the scheme when it was in fact costed in 2007 at some £7bn?

“It is all very well to come out with big announcements and we all want to see Scotland benefit from high-speed rail, but it is not responsible government to claim they are on course for a new high-speed rail line in 2024 when they don’t have basic details in place and can’t say how they’d fund it.”

High-speed rail experts yesterday also pointed to the difficulty of building a new line into Edinburgh, since Waverley station is accessed by tunnels.

Campaigners against the first stage of the planned High Speed 2 line (HS2), between London and the West Midlands are waging vociferous protests, which could be repeated when route details are known for the Edinburgh-Glasgow route.

Jim Steer, founder of the high-speed rail pressure group Greengauge 21 and a past director of the UK government’s former Strategic Rail Authority, said constructing the line into the centre of Edinburgh would be a “key challenge”. He said: “It’s going to be difficult and it’s going to be expensive.”

Mr Steer said Glasgow would be less problematic because of spare railway land on the approach to Central Station, but a new bridge over the Clyde would be required.

However, he said completing the line in 2024 – nine years before HS2 is due to reach Manchester and Leeds – made sense because it would help speed up London-Scotland trains using the first part of the line to the West Midlands from 2026.

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “We’re not in a position to confirm any details of financing or funding or costs.

“We are in a completely different environment now from when that document was compiled in 2007, and we are therefore looking at high-speed rail completely afresh.”