SNP calls on Westminster to cooperate with EU to bring High Speed Rail to Scotland

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By a Newsnet reporter

Alyn Smith MEP and Aileen McLeod MSP have called on the UK Government to access the EU’s Ten-T transport infrastructure budget as a possible mechanism to fund Scotland’s high speed rail ambitions, as well as a host of other projects.

The calls follow the publication earlier this month of Fast Track Scotland, the business case for bringing high speed rail to Scotland.  Three quarters of businesses consulted said that they believed a new line would attract business and investment to Scotland.  The project could potentially benefit the Scottish economy to the tune of £25 billion.  The construction costs are estimated at £9 billion.

A new high speed line could reduce travel times between Edinburgh and London to just over 2 hours, and make train travel more competitive with airlines.  As electric train services have a much smaller carbon footprint than air travel, a new line would also assist Scotland and the UK to meet their carbon reduction targets and promote the green economy.

The Scottish government has already stated its desire to bring high speed railways to Scotland, but is unwilling to commit the necessary funds unless the Westminster government agrees to fund construction of a high speed railway in northern England to connect to the Scottish border.

So far the UK government is unwilling to make this commitment.  London is already connected to the European high speed railway network via the high speed line to the Channel Tunnel.  UK plans for high speed railway foresee only the construction of a line from London to Birmingham, with a possible future extension north as far as Manchester and Leeds.  High speed trains running on to Scotland will have to use conventional track and operate at conventional speeds.

UK ministers have made vague statements about the desireability of an extension to the North East of England and on to Scotland, but there are no current plans and any such line is unlikely to be built before 2040, if at all.

Such a lengthy delay in extending the high speed network to the Border is damaging to Scottish interests and risks seeing Scotland marginalised from important markets in Europe.  Alyn Smith and Aileen McLeod have now said that there is potential to utilise the EU’s Ten-T budget to make the rail connection a reality and have written to the UK Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening MP, asking her to investigate.

The EU Trans-European Network – Transport scheme (TEN-T) was set up by the EU in order to provide more efficient transport and infrastructure links between Member States for the movement of goods and people.  A high-speed rail link connecting Scotland with the proposed line in the Midlands could well win a grant as the line will connect in London with the Eurostar to France.

Commenting, Mr Smith said:

“The economic case for a High Speed Rail link connecting Scotland to the rest of the UK and the continent is undeniable.

“The UK is already well behind the curve when it comes to High-Speed Rail and the lacklustre plans of the Westminster Government will only see Scotland fall further behind the rest of the world.

“There is however an opportunity to get on the right track and the publication of this economic argument is a crucial step.

“The European Union offers an opportunity with the TEN-T budget which is aimed at providing an improved European network, exactly what Scotland needs and what High Speed Rail would do.

“This funding stream is available not just for High Speed Rail but for a host of projects the length and breadth of Scotland.  However it is being put at risk because of Cameron’s disastrous approach to the European Union.  It’s time that the UK Government actually sit up and take note of the pluses that membership of the European community can bring.”

Dr Aileen McLeod added:

“Ten-T provides an invaluable amount of support in improving transport in Scotland and also providing better connections to our European neighbours.

“Improving our transport and infrastructure is correctly on the Scottish Government’s and the European Union’s priority list.  By working together, across parties and across governments we can ensure that we are successful in delivering what Scotland needs.

“Not only will our economy grow but our collective environment will also improve through a reduced reliance on air travel and it is also of course a positive step forward in our efforts to interconnect the European Union.

“In reality Scotland cannot afford for this not to be given the go ahead.  The plans – as they stand – to stop the line in the West Midlands is lunacy, what we need is a more ambitious, more appropriate network.”