Report rejects plans for high-speed railway link

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The Independent Online

Hopes that Britain would at last get its own TGV-style high-speed railway were dashed yesterday with the publication of a Treasury-commissioned report.

Instead of a new 186mph route linking London with the North, we should make better use of the existing network where the upper speed limit largely remains at 125mph, says the study written by the former chief executive of British Airways Sir Rod Eddington.

It is understood that an early draft of the document was less sceptical about the £15bn project, but Sir Rod was persuaded by senior Treasury figures to "beef up" his opposition to the idea. In his report, Sir Rod asserts that the arguments promoting the economic benefits of a dedicated north-south line had been unimpressive.

He argues that the benefits of such a system could be achieved by other solutions and perhaps at a much lower cost. Apart from re-engineering parts of the existing infrastructure, solutions to increasing congestion could include pricing policy and longer trains.

The Railway Forum, a body sponsored by much of the industry, criticised the report for a "lack of long-term vision".

Paul Martin, the forum's director general, said: "If we are serious about improving Britain's economic prospects, relieving congestion and minimising the impact of transport on the environment, we need to be thinking more positively about high-speed rail." He said the solutions suggested by Sir Rod would not solve capacity problems beyond 2015.

Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the white collar rail union TSSA, labelled the former BA chief executive's report "half-baked" because it called for road-pricing, but ruled out major investment in a new rail link between England and Scotland.

Bob Crow, leader of the RMT rail union, said road-pricing would not solve the problem on its own and there had to be a massive increase in public transport capacity including a high-speed rail link.

Although Sir Richard Branson has registered an interest in running services on a new high-speed line, he feels greater use can be made of existing resources.

He says that following massive engineering work on the West Coast Main Line between London and Glasgow, Virgin Trains will be able to run 35 per cent more services on the route from 2008, providing an extra 10 million seats a year.

Virgin is also in negotiation with manufacturers to provide two extra coaches for its trains which could provide another 10 million seats - with only one or two platform extensions required on the route.