The delay that is a “step forward”
A study on cutting Scotland – London rail journey times commissioned in November 2013 by the UK Department for Transport and the Scottish Government will not be published until 2016, The Scotsman reported (3 September 2015).
[Scots high-speed HS2 rail report suffers new delay, Alastair Dalton, The Scotsman, 3 Sep 2015][…]
[Scottish government infrastructure secretary Keith Brown], speaking at a conference in Glasgow today organised by high-speed rail study group Greengauge 21, said extra work on the report had been requested after the report’s initial findings were submitted at the end of last year.
He said the final report would enable the Scottish Government to develop its planned high-speed line between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The delay in publication was presented as a “step forward” in Transport Scotland’s press release.
[Cabinet Secretary Keith Brown announces step forward for High Speed Rail in Scotland, Transport Scotland, 3 Sep 2015]
Three-hour train journeys between Scotland and London are a step closer after Infrastructure Secretary Keith Brown today announced a deadline for delivery of the HS2 final report.
[…] Gareth Williams, High Speed Rail Scotland partnership, said: “The HSRS partnership believes that the investment case for high speed rail is strong, but it is even stronger when Scotland is included. A journey time of less than three hours between both Glasgow and Edinburgh and London is key to delivering the full economic and environmental benefits, including increased availability of slots at London airports for north of Scotland air links.
“The HSRS partnership has been concerned about a lack of clarity on the way forward for high speed rail connections with Scotland, particularly given the accelerated priority for HS3 Transpennine connectivity.
According to Jim Steer (Greengauge 21), “capacity is the key (it always is with high speed rail)”.
North of Preston and Newcastle, there are few commuters, but there are large and growing amounts of freight which use the same track, Mr Steer wrote in an earlier Scotsman article.
[Jim Steer: High speed rail must stay on track, The Scotsman, 29 Aug 2015]
[…] It becomes just as difficult here, across the Anglo-Scottish border as in the south (where at least the intercity and freight services largely get to run on separate tracks), to fit in extra trains.
After Greengauge 21’s Glasgow conference on 3 September, Mr Steer claimed that the northern end of the West Coast Main Line has ‘just as much a capacity problem as the southern end’.
[Greengauge 21 blogpost: British High Speed Rail Network [conference roundup], 7 September, 2015 ]
[…] Cross-border links bring the greatest environmental benefit through the scope for major modal shift from air to rail – a lost reason why high speed rail is the right way forward. Jim Steer said the corridor through Carlisle – which lies to the east of Edinburgh – could achieve a balanced benefit for both Glasgow and Edinburgh and the critical sub-3 hour journey time to London.
Jim Steer highlighted three issues. The northern end of the West Coast Main Line has just as much a capacity problem as the southern end. Existing appraisal assumptions prevent a proper value being put on the extra capacity required. And the 3 hour journey time target can be achieved without a whole-length new route. As a first stage, the aim should be to get as close as possible to a 3 hour journey time for Edinburgh and Glasgow as soon as HS2 to Birmingham opens in 2026 – the notion of splitting high speed trains at Carstairs was a nonsense adding 10 minutes and should be ditched.
Issues to be overcome were illustrated by Audrey Laidlaw, Network Rail’s Lead Strategic Planner in Scotland. Long sections of two track railway through the Borders with a conflicting mix of slow freight trains and fast inter-city trains. Pressures on station capacity through demand growth for commuter services into Edinburgh and Glasgow as well for long distance services where Virgin Rail Director Graham Leech said actual demand was massively outstripping conventional demand forecasts.
Sir Richard Leese, Chair of Transport for the North and Leader of Manchester and Andrew Burns Leader of Edinburgh spoke about the massive boost to the economy and quality of life that high speed rail will bring. In both Scotland and the North of England faster east-west links as well as north-south links to London are needed. This will support business to business links within and between the North and Scotland and growth in tourism. It will widen and strengthen labour markets.
Sir Richard revealed that Transport for the North is seeking significant development funding from the UK Government in support of a £15bn – £25bn investment programme to 2030.
At the conference, Mr Steer’s presentation included a map of his favoured cross-border high speed rail system, with new-build track stretching all the way from Lancashire to Glasgow:
But his presentation also included a map showing a “sensible mix of upgraded and new lines”.
So does that mean that new-build track stretching all the way from Lancashire to Glasgow wouldn’t be sensible?
In 2007, according to the Scottish chambers of commerce, there were 1.13 million rail journeys between Glasgow / Edinburgh and London. If a new cross-border high speed line could be built for £15 billion and it carried 15 million passengers annually, at 3% the interest charge alone would be £30 for each single journey (with no repayment element).
Equally barmy is the idea that it would be worth spending £15 – £25 billion to ‘improve railfreight access’ on the tracks over Beattock, when it is perfectly possible to route most diurnal goods traffic onto the Settle and Carlisle line.