High-speed rail plans unveiled

Route ahead not straightforward for high-speed rail
Route ahead not straightforward for high-speed rail

By Alex Stevenson

Britain's plans for a high-speed rail link have been unveiled by transport secretary Andrew Adonis, with the fastest trains between London and the West Midlands taking just 30 minutes.

The proposed 250mph rail line between London and the Midlands will only begin service from around 2025, with construction not due to start until 2017.

"The time has come to create a credible plan and for this to be a national cause," Lord Adonis told the Lords.

A "Y-shaped network" would extend branches north of Birmingham running either side of the Pennines, Lord Adonis told the Lords.

Glasgow to London would take 3.5 hours, while Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield would all be reachable within 75 minutes.

Lord Adonis warned of future overcrowding on trains, and congestion on motorways between London, Birmingham and Manchester, if no action was taken.

"High-speed rail could be the most efficient and sustainable way of providing extra capacity between these conurbations," he suggested.

Nevertheless the planned route is proving controversial. Environmentalists, in particular, are deeply concerned the rail link's route through the Chilterns - an area of outstanding natural beauty - is sensitively handled.

Writing in the Times, Lord Adonis argued that high-speed rail offered a way out of the restrictions imposed by Britain's Victorian rail network.

"High-speed rail has a transformational role to play at the heart of Britain's transport infrastructure," he wrote.

"I want this to be a national project, not a party project - one the whole country can get behind."

The Conservatives, however, have called for the rail link to call at London Heathrow international airport, in a bid to reduce domestic flights.

Lord Adonis has rejected such a move, after accepting recommendations made to him.

The case for an additional station at Heathrow, which would cost an extra £2 billion, was dismissed as "weak", although the transport secretary said there may be a "strategic case" for considering the link.

"It is important that Heathrow is connected to any high-speed line. Crossrail provides such a connection.... However, the overwhelming majority of passengers on a high-speed line would be going to or from London," he pointed out.

Instead the main line will run from its London terminus at Euston through the tunnel to Ruislip and along the existing rail corridor.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said Labour had betrayed the Tories' vision for high-speed rail.

"In leaving out Heathrow and setting out plans that give no firm guarantees north of the Midlands, Labour's plans are flawed both by lack of ambition and undermined by their inability to grasp the basic truth that high speed rail should an alternative to a third runway not an addition to it," she commented.

"The decisions we make now will have a profound impact on our transport system for generations to come. Only a Conservative government has the energy, the leadership and values to deliver high speed rail's full potential for Britain."


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