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05.02.19

High-speed rail cannot stand in isolation

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 19

Last year, the Scottish Government announced two feasibility studies to better understand the economic and environmental implications of options to improve capacity between the country and London. Frazer Henderson, head of high-speed and cross-border rail policy at Transport Scotland, talks about what to expect from the upcoming reports.

Some seven years ago, civic and business interests across Scotland came together to publish ‘Fast Track Scotland.’ As well as demonstrating a unity of purpose, the publication set out the case for Scotland’s inclusion in a Britain-wide high-speed rail network by presenting the economic and environmental benefits that would accrue both to Scotland and the UK.

Issues relating to increased capacity, improved network resilience, future competitiveness and economic prosperity, better connectivity, and reduced journey times – to encourage modal shift from air to rail for travel between central Scotland and London – were discussed. The report’s overriding conclusion affirmed that the investment case in addressing these challenges is strong, but stronger when Scotland is included within a high-speed rail network.

Subsequently, in 2013, the DfT commissioned HS2 Ltd to undertake a feasibility study to explore broad options for improving capacity and journey times to the north of England and Scotland. The study, which reported in 2016, presented a range of possibilities including new high-speed lines, high-speed bypasses, and improvements to the existing West and East Coast mainlines. In light of that study, the UK and Scottish governments paved the way for a dedicated ‘North of HS2 to Scotland Working Group’ – comprising Transport Scotland, DfT, HS2 Ltd and Network Rail – to get started on the practical task of exploring and assessing options, in detail, on the East and West Coast lines which could meet the previously identified challenges to improve journey times, capacity, and resilience between central Scotland and London.

Last year, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that feasibility studies, commissioned by Transport Scotland on behalf of the North of HS2 to Scotland Working Group, would be undertaken into two of the potentially better-performing options to understand cost, environmental impacts, and technical considerations.

On the west coast, the study looks into ways of significantly increasing capacity between Abington and Rutherglen and delivering a sub-one-hour journey time between Carlisle and Glasgow. It also looks at a new interchange station for local and cross-border traffic within the Eurocentral business park, east of Glasgow, with direct links to north-west and north-east England and London and the creation of a new cross-border station on the existing rail network near Livingston.

On the east coast, the study addresses how capacity on the mainline could be increased together with significant reductions of up to 30 minutes in journey time between Newcastle and Edinburgh. This study complements ongoing activity by Network Rail to address demand on the growing East Lothian corridor and work to determine infrastructural needs at Newcastle station to facilitate longer, high-speed-compatible trains.

The studies are due to report imminently, after which business cases will be developed to inform ministerial decisions on the scope and scale of future investments. All parties are in agreement that any investments should make the best use of existing assets and that benefits should be realised at the earliest opportunity. Such an approach lends itself much more to strategic interventions such as high-speed rail bypasses rather than the construction of a continuous high-speed route. 

It is clear, and long recognised by the Scottish Government, that high-speed rail cannot stand in isolation. Accordingly, there is a further significant challenge to address how to integrate high-speed rail fully with the existing network, so that the fullest economic and environmental benefits can be realised.

Fortunately, due in no small part to an £8bn investment over the past decade to reopen lines, create new stations, and undertake an extensive electrification programme, Scotland’s rail network is well placed to maximise the opportunities of high-speed connectivity. That investment, plus a further £4bn over CP6 to increase the network’s capacity, together with sustained commitment to realise the economic and environment opportunities accruing from high-speed rail connectivity, demonstrates – if ever there was any doubt – the resolution and ambition of the Scottish Government.

 

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