A DEAL to cut train journeys from Scotland to London to three hours by bringing high-speed rail north of the Border is in the offing between the UK and Scottish governments.
It could involve a combination of upgrading existing tracks and building new high-speed lines over the final stretches into Glasgow and Edinburgh, according to sources familiar with the project.
A joint study by the two governments is understood to conclude that extending HS2 to Scotland from northern England is not feasible.
A three-hour journey time is one hour shorter than the current fastest trains.
HS2 is due to be built from London only as far as Manchester and Leeds by 2033, but its trains are expected to take three hours 38 minutes to reach Scotland by continuing on existing tracks.
The Scottish Government has revealed infrastructure secretary Keith Brown met UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin last month “to discuss next steps in bringing high speed rail to Scotland”.
Its spokesman said: “The Scottish Government and the Department for Transport (DfT) continue to work together and we are optimistic about seeing a joint, positive announcement as the outcome of these talks.”
He also confirmed that it remained Scottish ministers’ ambition to complete a high-speed line between Edinburgh and Glasgow by 2024.
Industry sources said new tracks could be built into Glasgow city centre over derelict land in the east end, and as far as Haymarket in the west end of Edinburgh.
A report by consultants Atkins has set out how the project could be completed, involving legislation being introduced at Holyrood in a year’s time and construction taking five years.
This could be accompanied by an upgrade of the west coast main line to raise speeds.
Jim Steer, founder of high-speed rail pressure group Greengauge 21, said: “The aim has always been a three-hour journey time and it is clear this does not mean building a new high-speed line the whole distance. But neither can it be assumed that upgrading existing lines for higher speed solves the problem – there are slower trains using the same tracks.
“The answer is to target sections of new line, built for higher speed, to provide the extra line capacity where the traffic mix demands it. New tracks through the commuter belt into Glasgow would fit this prescription, and would probably bring more benefits than an expensive new line across the Southern Uplands.”
A DfT spokesman said: “The UK government is committed to a genuinely national high speed rail network, and Scotland will benefit from high- speed services from the moment HS2 opens.
“We continue to work closely with the Scottish Government to maximise the benefits that Scotland gets from a High Speed Britain.”