FM announces study into north-to-south HSR link

0
510

Scotland will not wait until independence day to strengthen Scotland’s relationship with the north of England and celebrate ‘the ties that bind the nations of these islands’ following this September’s referendum on independence.

In a St George’s Day speech delivered in the shadow of Carlisle Cathedral, First Minister Alex Salmond told the invited audience of business people that a successful Scotland will become a new beacon of growth to the north, shifting the centre of economic gravity of these islands and preventing the flow of power, wealth and talent flow downhill to the south east.

He said independence for Scotland would cause an economic rebalancing of Britain and the Scottish Government would refuse to wait 30 years for high speed rail to be delivered by Westminster and instead will commission a feasibility study on work on HSR beginning from the north heading south.

The Scottish Government will also push forward its responsibility to make improvement to the West Coast rail line north and improve the transport connectivity between Carlisle and the south west of Scotland, creating a ‘a conurbation of connectivity’.

Announcing the study, the First Minister said:

“The vision – of these border lands as hubs – requires the transport connectivity to link Scotland and the north of England more effectively together.

“The UK’s current plans for high speed rail lack high ambition – for Scotland and for the north of England. They also lack speed – they may not reach Manchester and Leeds, let alone Carlisle, until 2032. Indeed even Sir David Higgins, who is in charge of delivering the project, has expressed concern about that current timescale.

“But since 2007, rail travel has increased by 144% between London and Glasgow; by 191% between Manchester and Scotland; and by 261% between Birmingham and Scotland. Demand for freight is also increasing, but line capacity is constrained.”

The First Minister continued:

“But by the time high speed rail first came to the UK, when the Eurostar link was completed, the regions weren’t served at all. There was no further development of services beyond London. In fact, a report by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee pointed out that “The acquiescence of Members of Parliament to the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 depended on the provision of regional services.” Its view was that “The regions have been cheated.”

“And we have seen in the last ten years that the major upgrade to the West coast Main Line focused on Southern parts of the line. We then missed the opportunity for faster services to the north because the UK Government’s procurement process for the InterCity West Coast franchise collapsed. That piece of incompetence which cost taxpayers £50m. At the moment, we may have to wait for refranchising in 2017 to see a significant improvement.

“To summarise, under Westminster control, high speed rail won’t come to Carlisle for decades. The west coast line doesn’t get upgraded, and the franchise process collapses. The east coast line has seen consistent failures of operators – and when they do have a public operator which works, their answer is to change the franchise!

“By comparison, I am pleased to report that our two rail franchise procurements are proceeding well and on schedule. And we’re keen to get on with making major improvements to connectivity.

“We are already working with the UK Government to prepare joint plans for high speed rail links between England and Scotland. Initial findings from this review are due in the summer. And we are taking the initiative within Scotland – detailed planning is being undertaken for a high speed service between Edinburgh and Glasgow, which could link to high speed lines from England. The business case for that Edinburgh to Glasgow link will be sent to Scottish Ministers in a few weeks.

“An independent Scotland could do more. Rather than paying our share of the borrowing costs for high speed rail, as we wait decades for it to spread up from the south, we can use that money to build high speed rail from the north instead.

“It’s time to take positive action. I can confirm today that the Scottish Government will build on the joint work we are undertaking with the UK Government. We will establish a feasibility study to explore in detail the options for building high speed rail from Scotland to England. In doing so, we will work closely with partners across the UK, especially in the north of England. Of course we can’t determine the route, until we undertake the feasibility study. But it is a statement of intent.

“I want to draw a brief comparison. In the north of Scotland, we are investing to reduce the time it takes to travel between Aberdeen and Inverness. We’re doing that because we want to create a conurbation of connectivity across that part of Scotland. In a similar way, we can develop a conurbation of connectivity between Carlisle and the south west of Scotland.

“That way, a prosperous Carlisle and Cumbria will benefit south west Scotland, just as a prosperous Scotland will benefit the north of England.

“These rail projects could have the potential to bring huge benefits for all of us. But they require an initiative and impetus which is more likely to come from a Scottish Government whose main population centres are within 100 miles of here, than from a Westminster Government based 300 miles away.”

The First Minister’s commitment to closer cooperation between an independent Scotland and the border lands of England will also be recognised through a forum to forge strong economic links for those both north and south of the Border with a dedicated lead minister post-independence.

During the speech, the First Minister told a gathering of business people that a railway line from London to Manchester and Leeds would bring £3 billion benefit to Scotland – but a full High Speed Rail connection would bring £24 billion and lead a major shift from air to rail.

Concluding, the First Minister said:

“I look forward to a future of close collaboration between an independent Scotland and the north of England – in a partnership which will be good for Scotland, good for the north of England, and good for all of the nations of these islands. Happy St George’s Day. ”