Network Rail calls for high-speed line

Network Rail says there is a sound business case for a new high-speed railway line between London, the Midlands, the North West and Scotland, cutting end-to-end journey times to just over two hours and easing pressure on existing lines.

Britain's rail infrastructure operator has been investigating whether it should continue to develop the concept of building new lines. As a result of this work the company has concluded that a 200mph line on its preferred route would cost £34bn to build and would generate almost £55bn of value in revenue and benefits.

Iain Coucher, Network Rail’s chief executive said: "Demand for rail travel is growing and our main lines from the north to London are nearly full. By 2020 we will be turning away passengers – that’s not what we want. We need to start the planning now to meet future demand and the solution is a new high-speed railway to the Midlands, the North West and Scotland. The line has a sound business case that will pay for itself."

Network Rail’s study, running to over 1,500 pages of research, modelling and analysis, concluded that in order to meet demand the greatest benefits would come from a new high-speed line from central London to central Manchester (offering a journey time of 1 hour 6 minutes) with a diverging high speed line to the centre of Birmingham (46 minutes).

Considering options for extending the line northwards, the best value for money would come from running the line through Preston and into Scotland, splitting to serve Glasgow and Edinburgh, with an additional high-speed spur to Warrington and Liverpool.

The study also considered options to serve London Heathrow Airport and for through train operation to and from High Speed 1, but concluded that available capacity on the new line would be best used for services to central London.

Asked about the claims of other cities such as Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle, Mr Coucher said that they would be best served by a separate line on the east of the country, but the most pressing need was to relieve capacity constraints at the south end of the West Coast route.

Although Network Rail is recommending construction of a new line, it will be for the government to make a decision whether or not to proceed. Then about five years would be needed for design and planning and a further five for construction.

The present Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, is known to look more favourably on railway investment than his recent predecessors. His Department has set up a company, High Speed 2, to develop proposals for a new railway line between London and the West Midlands and beyond.

Lord Adonis said: "This report makes a powerful case for high-speed rail in Britain. The potential benefits are considerable in terms of extra rail capacity, faster journey times, carbon reduction and environmental improvements. This is why virtually every other developed country in the world is now building high-speed rail lines. High Speed 2 will take full account of this work."

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