MINISTERS are set to back plans for the first section of a new High-Speed rail link this week, paving the way for a Scotland-London high speed connection within 20 years.
A report by Network Rail, the rail operator, has knocked back claims that improvements to existing inter-city links will be able to cope with passenger demand over the coming generation.
Government sources said that, as a result, ministers were now considering “very seriously” giving the go-ahead this week to plans for the first section of a new High Speed link, from London to Birmingham.
SNP politicians yesterday called on the UK government to commit to building the line all the way to Scotland. An announcement on the initial London to Birmingham connection is expected on Tuesday.
A new rail link which connects the entirety of the country would not be finished before 2033, however, according to estimates. The move to approve the first section of the link is certain to be massively controversial, with Tory MPs in seats along the route having expressed bitter opposition to the proposals.
But backers say that a London-Birmingham route, cutting connections between the two cities to just 49 minutes, would have massive economic benefits.
That first link could be completed by around 2026, before a further Y-shaped section takes passengers to Manchester and Leeds by the early 2030s.
A commitment to taking it up to Scotland has not yet been made, but rail operators say that the financial case for the vastly expensive rail link only stacks up once it runs right down the spine of the country, from Edinburgh or Glasgow to London.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “The capacity case for a new high-speed line is clear. In just over a decade the West Coast mainline, Britain’s busiest and most economically vital rail artery, will be full with no more space to accommodate the predicted growth in demand.”
He added: “Alternative schemes to HS2 have been put forward which would deliver some short-term capacity benefits, but they would come at a heavy price in terms of disruption to passengers and the wider economy.”
A government source told the BBC: “This independent Network Rail report shows that the main alternatives cited by opponents cannot in fact generate the capacity and connectivity boost that a new high-speed rail line could deliver.”
Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi said the UK government should use the opportunity to confirm that they support connecting the high-speed line to Scotland.
He added: “Connecting Scotland and the south of England through high-speed rail would be good for business and good for the environment.
“The UK government should make clear that they will bring the line beyond Birmingham and north to Scotland.”
“A high-speed line connecting London to Scotland would offer a real alternative to short domestic flights, helping to cut carbon, reduce business costs and bring rail transport across the UK into the 21st century.”