High-speed rail plans submitted

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The Independent Online

Whitehall-commissioned plans for a high-speed rail line with 250mph trains were submitted to the Government today.

But residents in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain will have to wait several weeks to find out if the line will pass close to their homes.

The Government has decided that plans for the scheme, possibly costing £60 billion, will not be made public until the end of March 2010.

Produced by the High Speed Two (HS2) company specially set up by the Government, the plans are contained in a lengthy and detailed report received today by Transport Secretary Lord Adonis.

HS2 has produced a feasible route - exact to within 18 inches - of a new high-speed line with trains operating from a huge, new central London station.

The line will almost certainly pass through the picturesque Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire and on to the West Midlands.

HS2 has also given full details of how this line, using new 400-metre long trains capable of carrying 1,100 passengers, could be financed.

If the plans are approved, work could start on the line by 2017, with the route being operational by 2025.

The report also contains less-detailed plans for an extension of the high-speed line to points north of the West Midlands to Scotland.

If the full plan is adopted, there could be as many as 18 trains an hour on the route, with 20,000 passengers travelling in and out of London every 60 minutes.

If the Government decides to go ahead with the project, it will publish the report alongside a White Paper at the end of March.

This White Paper will set out detailed plans for new high-speed rail (HSR) lines and services, including route proposals, timescales and associated financial, economic, and environmental assessments. This would be followed by a full public consultation starting in autumn 2010.

Lord Adonis said today: "This is an important report which will shape the future of HSR in this country.

"HSR has real potential to regenerate and reinvigorate. Our high-speed network lags behind that of many of our European neighbours and doesn't connect any of our major cities, but this report could change that."

He went on: "I am excited about the possibilities that HSR has to transform transport in this country for the better, providing environmental benefits, encouraging investment and boosting business and jobs.

"Scrutiny of the report will begin immediately and we will announce how we plan to take HSR forward by the end of March, - making 2010 the year of HSR in the UK."

As well as the controversy likely over the route through the Chilterns, the line is also expected to spark fierce debate about just which urban areas north of Birmingham should get fast links.

While preparing the report, HS2 chief executive Alison Munro said she understood there would be much demand from each region to be included in the plans.

But she added: ""You don't want to stop your high-speed trains at numerous stations along the way."

RAC Foundation director Stephen Glaister said the report should be made public immediately.

He added: If HS2 concludes a high-speed line is the best way of using vast sums of cash then so be it. If not, then we need to know straight away so the limited funds that are available can be allocated to transport schemes which will offer better value for money and benefit people across the whole of the country, not just along a single, narrow corridor."

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "HSR can bring major benefits to passengers, the economy and the environment. However, money set aside for new high-speed lines must allow much-needed investment in other rail projects to go ahead, to ensure that no part of the network is left behind.

"The passenger must come first. It is essential to think not just about the route of any new line but also issues such as ticket prices and stations. These are all areas where train companies have expertise to make sure HSR works for everyone.

"It is vital that decisions about the destinations which might be served by HSR speed rail are based on a sound business case."

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker MP said: "As the party first to propose HSR in the UK we are delighted at this proposal and fully welcome the report."

"The fact there is cross-party agreement for this vital service shows just how important it is," he went on,

"However, the Liberal Democrats are the only party to identify a funding stream designed to ensure the project goes ahead. I would now call on the other parties to not only support HSR in principle, but also show their dedication by setting out how they would pay for it."