The Scottish Government is pressing ahead with planning which could see a sub-30 minute rail link between Glasgow and Edinburgh within 12 years.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today revealed that the Scottish Government is firing ahead with plans to bring high speed rail to Scotland by 2024 – at least 10 years ahead of when the Westminster arrangements might bring the HS2 project north of the border.
Ms Sturgeon announced the plans as she prepared to head up a delegation of politicians and rail industry experts from throughout Britain and Europe calling on the Westminster government to involve the whole country in HS2 from the outset.
And today’s announcement means Scotland could have 140mph trains even before the completion of the London-Birmingham HS2 line, which is due to open in 2026 and was given the green light by Westminster at the start of this year.
Ms Sturgeon said:
“The Scottish Government is happy and proud to take the first steps to ensure Scotland has a high speed connection bringing us into line with the most forward-thinking transport systems in the world.
“Last year we launched the Fast Track Scotland (FTS) document which showed a huge level of support for high speed rail in Scotland and the massive benefits that would bring. So Transport Scotland, on behalf of the FTS group, explored how quickly it would be possible to see this dream become a reality.
“We now know that within just 12 years, we could build a line which will see journey times between our two major cities cut to less than half an hour. That will benefit our businesses, our jobs market and also our tourism industry. And it will put us up there with the world’s greatest transport networks.
“We will not wait for Westminster to bring high speed rail to us. We have already made moves towards seeing a high speed line in Scotland and the evidence is now in place that this is feasible long before the HS2 proposals.
“The Scottish Government will now enter into talks with our partners in both cities and the rail industry to see how we can work together to see this vision realised – a Glasgow-Edinburgh high speed line which can connect to the network from England.”
The Department for Transport has so far only revealed plans to see the new high speed line go from London to Birmingham and then Manchester and Leeds by 2033, although Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin has agreed to continue talks to involve Scotland at some stage. Transport Minister Keith Brown will meet him in the coming weeks to agree a shared approach going forward.
The Fast Track Scotland report was produced last year and found that a high speed line from London would benefit Scotland to the tune of around £24.8billion. The document also found that almost three quarters of Scottish businesses believe high speed rail would attract new investment to Scotland.
This week’s two-day conference brings together representatives from across the political spectrum, commerce, industry and academia to discuss the benefits of extending the HS2 line beyond the current plans.
Speakers will include Ms Sturgeon, Transport Minister Keith Brown and Westminster Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport
Music impresario and rail entrepreneur Pete Waterman will also address the event, alongside representatives from local authorities throughout the north of England, Scottish business and the London Chamber of Commerce.
Today’s news follows the Scottish Government’s announcement in the summer of the £650million Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) which will electrify the Falkirk High line between the two cities.
Both cities have welcomed the latest announcement.
Councillor Gordon Matheson, Leader of Glasgow City Council, said: "I have long argued that bringing High Speed Rail to both Glasgow and Edinburgh is vital for Scotland's economy.
"Today's announcement is therefore to be welcomed. Glasgow City Council is committed to working in partnership with the Scottish Government to bring high speed rail to Scotland at the earliest opportunity.”
And Cllr Lesley Hinds, Transport Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: "There is a very compelling case for bringing high speed rail to Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council and our partners are united in our ambition of making this a reality at the earliest opportunity. The announcement of the potential for Edinburgh to be linked with Glasgow by high speed rail by 2024 is a very welcome development towards this goal."
Network Rail boss David Simpson said:
“I welcome the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to supporting the development of Scotland’s railway. We continue to work as part of Fast Track Scotland in developing plans for high speed rail in Scotland and the exciting opportunities it would bring.”
The rail industry and Scotland’s business community also welcomed the news.
Jim Steer, Director of rail consultants Greengauge 21, said:
“This is a major step forward in the creation of a national high-speed rail network. Greengauge 21’s research has shown that there is a very strong business case for investment in cross-border Anglo-Scottish high-speed rail. We also know that by connecting Scotland and northern England, connecting with HS2, there will be substantial carbon saving benefits secured by providing passengers with a realistic alternative to travelling by air.”
James Alexander, Senior Policy and Communications Manager at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), said:
“High-speed rail is one of Scotland’s long-term economic priorities. Our survey of leading Scottish businesses demonstrated strong support for the reduced journey times, increased productivity and potential to travel by rail rather than air which only a network including Central Scotland can offer. Both Governments need to work to deliver this vision as part of a north-south connectivity strategy, which also ensures access to the UK’s hub airport from the north of Scotland.
“SCDI welcomes today’s announcement that Glasgow and Edinburgh can be linked by a high-speed line as a first step towards the inclusion of Central Scotland in a UK network. Slashing journey times between Scotland’s two largest cities will enable them to compete more effectively for investment. We need to maximise this opportunity for growth and regeneration in the cities, as well as integrating the line into the wider rail network to ensure that all of Scotland benefits.”
The Fast Track Scotland report was published last year and detailed the benefits of high speed rail for business, communities and the environment. The study was compiled by the Scottish Partnership Group for High Speed Rail, formed by Minister for Housing and Transport Keith Brown. The report found that the line would benefit Scotland to the tune of around £24.8billion and that 72.5 per cent of Scottish businesses believe high speed rail will attract new investment.