‘All aboard’ for a 20-year campaign

Scotland needs needs to act now if we’re to avoid being left behind on High-Speed Rail, says RICHARD OLSZEWSKI


Government proposals for the demolition of 200 homes on a council estate in central London would not normally be of much interest to the people of Scotland.

But the plight of people living on the Regent’s Park Estate, whom I used to represent on Camden Council, needs to be addressed before the first northbound high-speed train is able to leave Euston station in 2026. Their homes will be among the first to be demolished to enable expansion of the station and construction of a tunnel to carry the new High Speed 2 line out of London.

The people living on that London council estate are understandably anxious about their future and are vociferously opposed to High Speed 2. Anyone in Scotland who wants the high speed trains to reach Glasgow and Edinburgh should be concerned with these issues, because unless the first phase of the new line to Birmingham gets built, it will never go all the way north.

Even as it is, the mooted second phase of the line will only reach Manchester and Leeds in 2032. And as for the arrival of High Speed Rail (HSR) in Scotland? Well, even long-suffering users of former British Rail sleepers may find journey times in excess of 20 years a tad too much to bear.

This is one area of UK government transport policy where it is crucial for Scottish voices to be heard.

The economics of extending HSR to Scotland will certainly be challenging. But unless Scottish politicians, businesses and transport users start pushing for this upgrade to end all upgrades to reach Scotland, we will find ourselves hurtling from London to Birmingham at 225 miles per hour but barely half that for the rest of the way home. And even today, more than a quarter of trains between Scotland and Birmingham carry standing passengers for part of the journey.

Scotland’s MPs need to put their oars in, as that son of Kent and Shadow Scottish minister, Tom Greatrex, has been doing just this week to make the case for HSR to go all the way north.

There is definitely a case, as he has argued, for the UK government to carry out a feasibility study for extending the upgrade to Scotland and to do it at the same time as the work is being done in England. We don’t have to wait until HSR reaches Manchester and Leeds before considering what to do next. The feasibility studies, legislation and even construction could also travel north to south and that journey could start now.

As well as MPs putting the case to the UK government, Scottish Labour could start the ball (or train) rolling close to home. Councillors in Glasgow, for instance, could initiate their own studies into the impact and benefits for their city and take the first steps in drawing up a masterplan for a high speed link. And Labour MSPs can start putting pressure on the Nats to provide Scottish Government support for the link’s extension, whether that support is political, financial or legislative.

Shouting “all aboard” for a campaign for high speed trains that won’t start running for another 20 years is nothing if not long-term. But without a strong campaign now for HSR’s extension to Scotland, it will never reach us.

Richard Olszewski has been an industrial officer for the NUR and a researcher for former MP Brian Wilson. From 1998 to 2005 he visited various government departments as a special adviser to John Reid. He now runs a communications consultancy based in London. He tweets occasionally as @olszewskilab.

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15 thoughts on “‘All aboard’ for a 20-year campaign

  1. This is a genuine Union dividend being put at risk by NIMBYism in the South. It’s good to see a practical idea emerge here.

    1. I fail to see the union dividend of plans to run a train line between London & Birmingham with provisional plan’s to maybe, possibly, perhaps extend this to Manchester & Leeds if the funding, public and political will exist at some indeterminate point in the distant future.

      1. If it is accompanies by a commitment to extend to Glasgow/Edinburgh, there is a dividend.

  2. Part of the problem, as I see it is the blinkered view of the rail operators that High Speed trains should be restricted to HS2. In France TGVs often finish their journey on “classic” lines, and one thing we should be campaigning for is for High speed Trains to reach Scotland as soon as possible by completing their journey on the WCML.

  3. Undoubtedly this is true.

    Still there are lots of small scale projects that could have an enormous benefit for all.. Aberdeen Crossrail and new light rail initiatives and electrification schemes.

    1. The best thing the Scottish Government can do – and something Labour should commit itself to do – is to improve the transport links between the central belt and the rest of Scotland. Increased electrification, quicker journey times and taking freight off the roads.

  4. I’m all for improved rail links within Scotland, but why raise them in the context of extending the proposed High Speed railway to Scotland? Do we not want Scotland to have better links with the major cities of England?

    The consultation paper does indeed talk about running the trains on the existing West Coast Main Line after Manchester. That’s welcome so far as it goes but it would be much better for Scotland’s economy, business and rail network if we had a dedicated high speed line all the way. It would shorten journey times even more and free up capacity on existing lines, thus enabling them to take more freight and run more non-high-speed passenger trains.

    The point of campaigning on this issue is to turn plans from “maybe, possibly, perhaps” into definite proposals.

  5. In some respects I suspect the chance was missed some time ago.

    The WCML upgrade debacle cost £10B for 500ish route miles of upgrade ( almost £20M a mile) where only some sections will be suitable for 125mph running, as opposed to the original plan of 140mph running for which Virgins new trains are designed, yet may now never operate at! Compare this with £5.2B for the brand new high speed Chanel Tunel rail link with a design speed of 186mph which comes in at £50M a mile.

    So instead of a WCML upgrade we could have built a “new” high speed line for 154 miles, which if you think about it would cover most of the core trunk of london-birmingham-manchester.

    But that is not the end of it, the French and Spanish have built new TGV lines for as little as one seventh the cost of the CTRL, or to put it another way, for less than the cost of the WCML “upgrade” we could have built new lines in all directions, if we were French or Spanish!!…

    Personally I don’t see why we we have to start building out from London, why can’t we build from Glasgow towards London, and get the easy/cheaper sections ot of the way first? At least we’d be able to get the best out of the existing train fleet.

    I also think it was a great shame the regional eurostar services were abandoned before they even started, especially as the trains had already been built. Surely as the trains were built it would have been worth a trial for a year or two?


    1. I quite agree on the differing costs between HS1 and continental systems. The only thing I can think of is a) our planning system drags things out, requires much more abatement of nosie and unsightliness (ie extra tunnels etc) and b) the cost of land here is more expensive (ie Farmer says “I’ll rip off these railway builders”…)

  6. I would agree, it’s important that people in all parts of Scotland and England have access to the high speed rail network, not just to be able to connect to London, but directly through to the Channel Tunnel to the continent, and not just destinations currently served by Eurostar such as Paris and Brussels, but also to destinations such as Amsterdam and some in Germany, such as Cologne and Frankfurt.

    One thing I’d add is that although the high speed lines may never run north of the Central Belt of Scotland, it is important that destinations such as Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee and Perth have easy connections to the High Speed trains at Edinburgh (the current layout of 2 stations in Glasgow makes transferring there more difficult), or that the trains are able to run on conventional as well as high speed lines and can run to these places, just in the same way the TGV trains in France can reach cities beyond the high speed lines, such as Bordeaux and Nice.

    1. I would agree, and I see electrification of the lines to Aberdeen and Inverness as a necessary part of that. Include journey time reductions to get the Aberdeen-Glasgow/Edinburgh time closer to 2 hours from the current best of 2 hours 30.

      Some of the earlier proposals for HS2 that I saw from Network Rail indicated a journey time of 2 hours 5 minutes from Endinburgh to London – if a train were to do that and run on the classic line to Aberdeen, we could see Aberdeen – London times of 4 hours 15 minutes.

  7. The Labour Party could score a few points in the debate over transport in Scotland. The SNP plans for a second Forth Road Bridge are not convincing. Repairs to the existing structure would leave a lot of money to reallocate to other projects.

    The fact that Scotland’s four major cities aren’t linked bt a modern electrified railway is a disgrace. The two halves of Glasgow’s railway system cry out to be properly connected. A proactive Scottish Government might start to build a High Speed railway south towards the English network, perhaps in collaboration with northern English regions. Whether Scotland stays in the Union or not, it needs to be well connected. Perhaps Manchester – Leeds – Newcastle – Glasgow – Edinburgh could become a powerful regional hub that gives the M25 enclave a run for its money.

    Beyond travel, first rate internet connectivity in Scotland is key. With that, the need to travel is reduced, and Scotland’s relative physical isolation becomes less of an obstacle to growth, employment, etc. The Labour Party needs to dare to want good things for Scotland and its people if it is to contest future elections. I’m an SNP voter, but I’d love to see you folks make a fight of it. If you give me a decent choice to make – who knows how I might vote next time?

    1. I think there are two questions to ask about the Second Forth Road bridge – is the budget realistic, and can the money be better spend on repairs to the existing bridge and other public transport projects which will help achieve our climate change targets.

      I think the answer is that the budget isnt realistic, and the money could be much better spent on a massive repair programme, coupled with works to improve the rail network in Fife, to help promote public transport into the capital.

  8. Richard, you are correct about the fact that Scotland’s four major cities aren’t linked bt a modern electrified railway is a disgrace. Who is to blame for this? Somehow I doubt it is the SNP. You are on much stronger ground with your concerns over the second Forth Bridge. The Norwegians and the Faeroese as well as the Chinese and Japanese seem to be able to build effective tunnels at a fraction of the costs quoted for this proposed bridge. Perhaps we should employ some engineers from these countries. Just no more Catalan architects, please. However the second Forth crossing will at least serve a purpose and is very likely to happen. If only we could say the same for the Edinburgh trams, a project born out of sheer spite and a pitiful half-assed attempt to scupper the finances of the first SNP administration.
    As for high speed rail, as others have said we need to ensure that the high speed rolling stock is backward-compatible with the existing tracks so we can at least have through-running to Glasgow and beyond. Glasgow Crossrail makes a lot more sense than GARL and needs reinvestigated now. If the Labour Party really want to do something worthwhile for Scotland then this is one campaign they should be highlighting from here in. A campaign BTW where they could garner genuine cross-party non-partisan support and be seen to be working for Scotland and the Scots. Forget about GARL, that argument was (rightly) lost and there is no sense in revisiting it.
    Whatever our future constitutional arrangements, there will be little change in geography and until we have very high speed ferries, our exports will be at the mercy of the rail and motorway infrastructure in England. We need to support English efforts to upgrade these vital links. The SG transport minister should be talking to the relevant guys in Newcastle and Manchester Leeds etc to begin lobbying for these projects to be started now. What’s wrong with starting the line in Edinburgh and pushing south to Newcastle and Leeds? Why does it all have to start in London?

    1. So where are the SNP’s plans for upgrading and electrifying the lines connecting the Central belt to Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness? Even the preliminary work on EGRIP was started by the previous Lab/Lib Dem administration.

      And I’m sure that the the first thing which went through the minds of the politicians in 2001 when the Edinburgh Tram system was first being planned was “Oh, this will really screw the SNP administration in the election after next”.

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