Transport Scotland high speed rail summit
Hello and thank you for the opportunity to put on record coalition government’s commitment to high speed rail, and its determination that all parts of our country, including of course Scotland, should benefit from it.
Growing demand for inter-city rail travel is putting increasing pressure on existing infrastructure. Without planning for additional capacity, passengers face the prospect of increasingly crowded and more unreliable services. To be clear, the primary, though not the only, justification for HS2 is a clear need for extra capacity north to south.
Our plans for a high speed rail network from London to the West Midlands and on to Leeds and Manchester will be the backbone of a new transport system for the 21st century.
From 2026, Phase 1 of High Speed 2 will link London and Birmingham. Comfortable trains travelling at 225 miles per hour will cut the journey time to just 45 minutes, compared to the 84 minutes it currently takes. Importantly for Scotland, the first phase of HS2 will provide connections to the existing network at Birmingham, and also link HS2 to HS1, opening up the opportunities for through trains to run from Scotland to Paris and Brussels.
Completion of the Y network to Leeds and Manchester will further spread the benefits of high speed rail across the country, increasing capacity and enhancing connectivity all the way to Scotland by relieving pressure on the most congested southern end of the line.
The coalition agreement makes it clear that our ultimate goal is a genuinely national network, with high speed services from London to the Midlands and the north, including Scotland. We see phases one and two of the High Speed 2 project as the best way to make progress towards that goal.
The Department for Transport ministerial team is very much engaged in the question of HS2 as it affects and, indeed, benefits Scotland. I visited Glasgow last year, the former Secretary of State went in March this year, and the current Secretary of State intends to visit later this month.
And last month we announced the launch of a study on ways to get fast journeys further north and to Scotland, making sure that the north-east benefits too. The aim is to fully understand and articulate transport needs in Scotland and the north of England, setting out the remit for any future work, using completion of the ‘Y’ network as a starting point.
This study won’t start with any preconceptions but will be open to all options that offer good value for money to the taxpayer. This may include a full high speed solution, upgrades to existing infrastructure, or a combination of the two.
As it stands today the network is expected to deliver up to £50 billion of business benefits alone and that will be felt very much in Scotland and the north of England as well as the South. The claim by some opponents of HS2 that better and faster transport links between north and south will see economic activity pulled into London and away from the UK’s other great cities is defeatist and misguided, and out of line with public opinion. The further north you go, the louder are the voices in support of high speed rail.
Bringing Edinburgh and Glasgow closer to London as well as the cities of the midlands and the north of England will undoubtedly boost growth across all of our major conurbations. That confidence is based on the evidence from our European neighbours, who began their high speed rail journey a generation before we had even started arguing about our first 67 mile stretch of high speed track from the channel tunnel.
With passengers enjoying faster journeys, there has been more extensive modal shift between rail and air as the train becomes the mode of choice for more travellers. High speed rail is already greener than flying and the gap between the two modes will widen as we make progress in decarbonising the sources of our electricity.
What’s more, HS2 will benefit every type of traveller, not just on the new network, but on existing lines too, freeing up more space and capacity.
To sum up, not only will high speed rail help boost the Scottish economy and support thousands of jobs in Scotland and throughout the UK, it gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the economic geography of the whole country.
Whatever way you look at it, HS2 is a national scheme in the national interest driven by a national government. Realising the full benefits of high speed rail for Scotland is crucial to the economic wellbeing of the whole country, and I can assure you we will continue to work very closely with our partners in Scotland to achieve this.