Network Rail has announced a £34bn high-speed London-to-Scotland rail line that will cut journey times to Edinburgh to just more than two hours.
According to the rail operator, the line will allow trains to travel at speeds of 200mph (322km/h), making it the UK’s second high-speed rail link after the Eurostar service from London St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel.
The route will run from central London to reach Manchester in one hour and six minutes, while a diverging route will cut journey times to Birmingham to just 46 minutes. The line will then continue to Warrington, Liverpool and Preston before reaching Edinburgh in two hours and nine minutes and Glasgow in two hours and 16 minutes.
The decision was based on a year-long study that analysed more than a dozen different options, including routes that would have travelled through the Midlands and the east of England.
The study concluded that a high-speed line running to Scotland via Manchester would provide the public with a greater incentive to switch from air to rail travel, as well as to ease pressure on Britain’s existing airways.
Iain Coucher, Network Rail’s chief executive, said: ‘Demand for rail travel is growing and our main lines from the north to London are nearly full. By 2020 we will be turning away passengers – that’s not what we want. We need to start the planning now to meet future demand and the solution is a new high-speed railway to the Midlands, the north west and Scotland. The line has a sound business case that will pay for itself.’
He added that the line would make 43.7 million journeys per year by 2030, resulting in 3.6 million fewer air journeys. According to Network Rail, this will lead to annualised CO2 reductions of almost 250,000 tonnes per year and will generate around £55bn of value to the economy.
Echoing Coucher’s sentiments, Stewart Stevenson, Scottish minister for transport, said that the move would bring significant environmental and economic benefits to the region, although he warned that more work needs to be done to link the route to the existing infrastructure.
‘It is important to stress that high-speed cross-border rail routes to both Glasgow and Edinburgh should connect with the existing network in Scotland to ensure all parts of the country benefit,’ he said. ‘It is equally important that HS2 [High Speed 2 - the company formed to progress UK high-speed links] works up a fully developed case for a high-speed rail project that links Scotland to the major capitals of Europe.
‘If, as research suggests, up to three times as many passengers will be travelling on our railways by 2020, then it is important that we move quickly in planning today for the rail network of tomorrow. The Scottish government is committed to ensuring Scotland's voice is heard in this work and we now look forward to working with the UK government on the development of a UK-wide network of high-speed services.’
Earlier this year, Lord Adonis commissioned HS2 to examine the potential for expanding high-speed services to Scotland. Network Rail’s plans remain subject to their approval and results of the consultation are expected to be published later this year.