Fast Track Scotland - Making the Case for High Speed Rail Connections with Scotland

1. High Speed Rail

1.1 High speed rail is needed in the UK

DfT and HS2 Ltd argue that "for the UK and its major cities to compete effectively in the 21st century, it is vital that the right infrastructure is in place"[2]. A high speed rail network will form a key part of this infrastructure.

The rail network in the UK faces sharp increases in demand resulting in increased pressure on rail capacity and increased crowding on services. Between 1994/95 and 2009/10, total passenger journeys rose by 71%, from 735 million to 1,258 million[3]. The fastest growth of all has been in demand for long-distance travel, with long-distance journeys more than doubling in this period.

Key Message

Demand for long-distance rail travel continues to grow, and high speed rail will deliver better rail connections for all. Without additional capacity the UK rail network will be severely constrained.

The ability to meet the rising levels of demand by running additional services and longer trains is significantly reduced as the use of the network increases. Consequently, forecasts show that key rail routes in the UK will be full in peak periods over the next 15-20 years. Despite the West Coast Route Modernisation programme providing increases in capacity, services are regularly found to be overcrowded. Network Rail has come to the conclusion that "the West Coast Main Line, particularly at the southern end of the route, is effectivel full [by 2024] and subsequent additional capacity could only be provided by exceptionall expensive infrastructure solutions"[4]. These findings are supported by Atkins (2008) who forecast a growth of 104% from 2006 to 2026 on the West Coast Main Line. The East Coast and Midland Main Lines are also suffering from overcrowding, with Atkins (2008) estimating a growth in passenger demand of 69% on the East Coast Main Line over the period to 2026.

This increased pressure on capacity will have consequences for reliability and punctuality, both of which are highly valued by passengers. As the number of services using the existing network increases the ability to maintain current levels of punctuality and reliability will diminish.

Key Message

Scotland stands united in support of high speed rail. It is vital that a high speed rail network be established across the UK to secure its future competitiveness and economic prosperity.

A further challenge to the UK is its dependence on oil to fuel its transport. Currently 98% of the fuel used for transport is oil-based. In the short to medium term the UK economy is sensitive to the price and availability of oil, while in the longer term the UK faces the prospect of having to find alternative sources due to the finite supplies of oil. Consequently, high speed rail can provide a viable alternative to car and air travel on key routes thus helping to secure our future transport options.

The final point is particularly relevant for Scotland given its geographical position. A high speed rail network is key piece of infrastructure which will increase the accessibility of Scotland, offering a step-change improvement in connectivity with the rest of the UK and Europe.

1.2 The benefits of a UK high speed rail network which includes Scotland

A high speed rail network which includes Scotland offers an opportunity to transform the transport system in the UK, helping to meet the challenges outlined above as well as creating a wide range of benefits.

Key Message

The investment case for high speed rail is strong, but is stronger when Scotland is included. This gives a better return to the UK economy and its taxpayers.

In August 2009 Network Rail published their New Lines Study[5] which examined options to deal with increased capacity constraints on the existing UK rail network. The report concluded that a new line, capable of carrying high speed trains, would provide additional capacity in two ways: by providing capacity on the new line, and by freeing capacity on the existing 'classic' rail network. Various options and alignments were appraised, with Network Rail concluding that the best option was a new high-speed route from the centre of London to Scotland, delivering passengers to the centre of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh with calling points at Warrington and Preston.

Greengauge 21[6] has also published their ambition for a UK-wide high speed rail network. This examined various options and alignments and recommended a phased approach to the introduction of a full high speed rail network across the UK. This network would include trains operating at speeds of 200 mph (320 kph), with lines built to EU regulatory standards for high speed rail, allowing European compatibility and the potential for future use of duplex trains to enhance capacity further. It recommended a phased construction of a high speed rail network over twent years, beginning with a line from London to the West Midlands and beyond.

Significantly, both Network Rail and Greengauge 21 reports make firm conclusions that high-speed rail must include Scotland in order to maximise economic and environmental benefits to Scotland and the rest of the UK. These will be outlined in more detail in section 3.

" Our findings indicate that the extension of any line to Scotland would significantly improve the benefit-to-cost ratio [for high speed rail in the UK]. London-Scotland is a substantial market currently dominated by aviation; a high speed rail line would reduce carbon emissions and time and offer substantial improvements to connectivity."

Network Rail
Written evidence to Transport Select Committee (TSC) (HSR 186)

As well as maximising the economic and environmental benefits from a high speed rail network, the inclusion of Scotland would fulfil the following objectives:

  • Provide additional capacity to accommodate the significant increases in forecast demand
  • Improve journey times, reliability, resilience and connections between Scotland and London, other UK cities and continental Europe
  • Support sustainable economic growth - given the UK's Climate Change commitments
  • Maintain competitiveness by keeping pace with developments in other countries
  • Provide a viable alternative to oil-based transport thus helping to secure our future transport options.

1.3 Learning from others

Since the first Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Osaka in 1964 countries throughout Europe and Asia have developed high speed rail as a means of transforming their transport network. These developments were first motivated by the predicted shortage of capacit on their existing services. Evidence across these countries has shown that high speed rail has been successful in meeting these capacity challenges. As well as resulting in increased levels of capacity on both the new and existing lines, the high speed rail networks have significantly reduced rail journey times - reducing the time taken to travel between Paris and Lyon from over 3 hours to 2 hours and cutting the Tokyo-Osaka journey from 7 hours to 2 hours 25 minutes.

In addition to successfully meeting the capacity shortages, new high speed rail links have also been shown to support economic growth and regeneration of cities[7]. High speed rail can both support growth in cities which already have a strong competitive position, such as Lyon, and improve the economic potential of previously declining urban centres, such as Lille. In Lyon, high speed rail has benefitted businesses by enhancing the access to the Paris market, and expanding tourist travel to Lyon, despite it already being a popular destination. Lille's position at the nodal point between Paris, Brussels and London has also made an important contribution to the transformation of its economy, with significant regeneration transforming the urban area around the high speed rail station into a major commercial centre.

1.4 The network currently planned for the UK

In March 2010 DfT announced a proposal for the construction of a high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands, and the continuation of the proposed line, following a 'Y' configuration, to Manchester and Leeds. Following the General Election of that year, the UK Coalition Government stated its commitment to the development of a 'truly national high speed rail network'[8].

" We will establish a high speed rail network as part of our programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for creating a low-carbon economy. Our vision is of a truly national high speed rail network for the whole of Britain."

The Coalition: our programme for government (May 2010)

Following consideration of whether onward connections to Manchester and Leeds would be better provided by a 'S' or 'Y' configuration[9], the Secretary of State for Transport outlined his intention to continue the development of the proposed line. The route proposals were for London to Birmingham, separate connections to Manchester and Leeds, following the 'Y' alignment, and with direct links to both Heathrow Airport and the High Speed One line.

Key Message

The remit of the High Speed Two Company must be extended to include detailed planning for routes to Scotland. The Scottish Government must work in close cooperation with the UK Government to bring high speed rail to Scotland.

In February 2011 the Secretary of State for Transport published the DfT consultation. This included questions on both the national strategy for high speed rail, and on the detail of the route for the proposed first phase of development.

The Consultation closed on 29 July 2011, and the Secretary of State for Transport will announce the outcome of this consultation process and the UK Government's final decisions on its strategy for high speed rail in January 2012.

It is proposed that the initial phase of construction between Birmingham and London will be completed by 2026, with separate extensions to Manchester and Leeds completed by 2032.

The initial HS2 line (2026) will interface with the West Coast Main Line near Lichfield in the West Midlands. It is proposed[10] that this will allow the provision of high speed rail services from London to Scotland, using trains capable of operation on both high speed and conventional lines. It is claimed[11] that this will provide faster journey times between Scotland and London. Once new lines to Manchester and Leeds are developed, further journey time benefits will be realised on high speed services that could continue to Scotland following either East Coast or West Coast Main Lines.

Figure 1 shows the initial high speed rail network and potential extensions as proposed by HS2 Ltd.

Figure 1


At present there is no proposal from DfT to extend high speed lines north of either Leeds or Manchester, and HS2 Ltd has no remit to develop options for new lines to Scotland.

If the decision is made to continue with the development of a UK high speed rail network, the planning for the first stage of development - to Birmingham - will be subject of a hybrid Bill to be put before the UK Parliament in its current session; a second hybrid Bill would follow in the subsequent session (from 2015), considering planning of the routes to Leeds and Manchester. It is only after this stage that the Secretary of State for Transport envisages commencing the planning for a full Scottish high speed rail connection[12]:

" The Government have made it clear that their long term commitment is to a truly national high speed network. We have discussed with Scottish Government Ministers the continuation of the dedicated high speed line to Scotland, and we have made a commitment to them that, once we have got the second hybrid Bill into Parliament, we will then start serious work with the Scottish Government."

Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Secretary of State for Transport

1.5 The implications for Scotland's connectivity

High speed rail has the potential to transform how people travel in the UK, and will bring cities closer together.

Key Message

Scotland should be included in the construction programme north of Birmingham.

Table 1, below, shows the future journey times envisaged by HS2 Ltd as a high speed rail network is developed across the UK. (Note that only Glasgow is shown as these times are based on HS2 Ltd plans for the West Coast Main Line.) The journey times show that if Scotland is not included in the UK high speed rail network then the Scottish cities will be comparatively further away from London than their main competitors who are served by high speed lines. A more comprehensive network would make both Scotland and the UK as a whole more attractive for inward investment.

Table 1

Journey Time 2012 2026 2033
04:30 Glasgow
04:00 Glasgow
03:30 Glasgow
02:30 Manchester
02:00 Manchester
01:30 Manchester
01:15 Birmingham
00:45 Birmingham Birmingham
00:00 London Euston London Euston London Euston

1.5.1 HS2 Ltd proposals for Scotland's connectivity in 2026

The introduction of HS2 services on a new high speed line between London and Birmingham in 2026 will allow journey time improvements, from 1 hour 25 minutes in the current timetable to around 50 minutes. Long-Distance High Speed[13] (LDHS) services beyond Birmingham will be provided by 'hybrid' or classic compatible trains, capable of running on both high speed and conventional lines. Overall journey times between Euston and Manchester will be improved as a significant proportion of the journey would be made on high speed lines. A smaller proportion of the overall journe to Scotland would be made on high speed line, and it remains to be demonstrated that non-tilt hybrid rolling stock would be capable of the same levels of performance as today's Class 390 Pendolino trains on routes north of Manchester, i.e. journey times between North West England and Scotland could be potentially longer than at present.

1.5.2 HS2 Ltd proposals for Scotland's connectivity in 2033

By the early 2030s, journey times between Manchester and London would be cut further by the completion of a full high speed line between the cities. Services to Scotland would continue to be operated by hybrid rolling stock on conventional lines. There would be no improvement in journey times on the route between Manchester and Scotland.

At this stage, Manchester would see some 40% improvement on today's journey times to and from London; the equivalent improvements from Scotland are in the region of 15-20%.

Although there will be a marginal benefit to Scotland through faster journey times between London and Manchester the Scottish economy will be at a comparative disadvantage compared with the Midlands and North of England. Only a full network with a link to Scotland will deliver the significant benefits identified elsewhere in this document.