PLANS for a £34 billion high-speed rail line carrying passengers from London to Edinburgh were outlined today by Network Rail (NR).
With trains travelling at 200mph, journey times to Edinburgh and Glasgow would be cut to a little over two hours.
The line would run from central London, via Birmingham, Manchester, Warrington, Liverpool and Preston to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Birmingham could be reached from London in just 46 minutes, with London-Manchester times coming down to one hour six minutes and London-Warrington being reduced to one hour six minutes.
The London-Preston time would be one hour 13 minutes and the line would then head further northwards, splitting to go to Glasgow (two hours 16 minutes) and Edinburgh (two hours nine minutes).
NR said such a scheme would generate almost 55 billion of value, thus paying for itself 1.8 times over.
The NR plan does not include a direct link to Heathrow airport in west London, with the company believing that such an increase in costs would outweigh the benefits and revenue.
However the company said a spur to Heathrow could be possible but the company ruled out a connection to Leeds through Manchester.
NR did not give a precise route for the new line but said the line could offer up to 16 trains an hour to and from London and provide 9,100 seats per hour into the capital.
There would be eight new stations with 400 metre-long platforms, more than 1,500 miles of track, 34 miles of tunnels and 32 bridges over motorways.
New city centre terminal stations in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh would be located close to existing city centre stations.
NR said today that it would not build the line but that it could possibly be built by the sort of consortium that came together to build the London to Folkestone High Speed One (formerly known as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link).
NR envisages that it would take up to five years to sort out the exact alignment of the route and all the planning stages and that construction would take a further five years or more.
Today's announcement from NR does not necessarily mean a high-speed line will be built, but merely outlines NR's preferred option.
NR had already started its study of new-line requirements before the Government set up High Speed Two (HS2) – a company that is looking into a London to Scotland high-speed line via Birmingham and which will make a report to the Department for Transport by the end of this year.
NR said that it was making all its work available to HS2 "to help it move quickly forward with its own very specific brief".
NR chief executive Iain Coucher said: "High-speed rail can transform Britain. It can promote economic growth, regeneration and social inclusion. It is a low carbon option – cutting domestic flights and taking cars and lorries off the road. It will release capacity on the existing rail network and revolutionise passenger journeys.
"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, north west England and Scotland. The line has a sound business case that will pay for itself."
NR said its plans today would "help inform the high-speed debate" and that further work would be needed to take the outline proposals and business case to the next stage.
Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: "As the party that has championed high-speed rail, we welcome NR's report and the research it contains on the massive potential benefits that high-speed rail could deliver.
"Today's announcement provides further evidence that we need to take high-speed rail to the north. Unlike Labour, our high-speed rail ambitions go north of Birmingham and we call on the Government to match our commitment.
"This report also highlights the major potential for air to rail switch that high– speed rail would generate and the importance of linking up Heathrow to the new network, if we are to encourage people to make greener transport choices."