A NEW study on how to build on the benefits of high-speed rail north of the Border suggests a bright future, says Robert Goodwill
When HS2 construction begins next year, we will be building something much bigger than a new railway.
The UK Government will be investing in Britain’s economic prosperity for the next half century and more. We’ll be rebalancing growth that for far too long has been concentrated in London and the South East. We’ll be freeing up precious capacity and improving services across the rail network. And we’ll be firing up the whole country to take advantage of the opportunities that this transformational project will bring.
So the publication of a new study by HS2 Ltd today on how we could further build on the benefits of high-speed rail to Scotland makes for timely and interesting reading.
We already know that journey times from Glasgow to London will be reduced to less than four hours when the first phase of HS2 opens in 2026.
Later, when the full Y-network opens, that will be reduced to around three hours 38 minutes from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, making rail an even more attractive alternative to aviation for commuters and business travellers between Scotland and London.
We also know that according to current plans, HS2 is set to boost Scotland’s economy by £3bn.
I spoke at an HS2 supply chain conference in Edinburgh last November, with nearly 100 companies from all over Scotland in the audience. What impressed me was the experience and ambition of those who attended, from large engineering and infrastructure firms to designers and specialist technology providers, who will be competing for more than £10bn of HS2 contracts – the largest in construction history. It left me in no doubt that Scotland has the expertise to play a massive role in developing HS2.
But today’s report considers new options for the future which could improve journeys further, delivering greater capacity, along with faster, and more reliable rail services between England and Scotland. These options could include upgrades of existing train routes, high-speed bypasses, and even new lines around the Pennines, which could reduce the journey from Edinburgh to London to just three hours, subject to further work and business case approval.
The alternatives range in cost between £17bn and £43bn, though some could be delivered in stages. All have their advantages and disadvantages, but the study has provided us with possibilities – for both passenger and freight services.
Together with the Scottish Government, we will be working with Network Rail to identify any and all options with a strong business case to consider for inclusion in investment periods after 2019.
HS2 provides us with a unique opportunity to modernise and reshape our transport infrastructure. But just as the high-speed trains themselves will continue to run beyond Leeds and Manchester HS2 stations, so the benefits of the railway will stretch a long way north to Scotland too.
• Robert Goodwill is the UK Government Minister for HS2