Adonis in all-party talks on high-speed rail link

Journey from London to Scotland will be 45 minutes quicker

The new high-speed rail line will guarantee shorter journey times to Scotland from day one of the service, the Transport Secretary has promised.

The first phase of the high-speed line will stretch only as far as the Midlands. But in an interview with The Independent, Lord Adonis pledged that trains would be specially designed to run on the existing rail network. Travellers heading to and from Scotland will not have to change trains if they take a high-speed service and will benefit from time savings of around 45 minutes as soon as the new line opens.

"I believe that if we can slash the journey time between Scotland and London then this will cement the political union between the two nations," Lord Adonis said. "There will be high-speed services to Scotland from the outset. A key principle of the project is that the trains should be able to run on the existing network and the high-speed network, as happens in France.

"It means Scotland would get the benefit of the trains from day one of high-speed rail, however long it takes to build the line to Scotland."

Senior party figures believe that using the line to strengthen the symbolic bond between England and Scotland will give Labour a unique selling point for the project. Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have their own plans for a high-speed line. However, Lord Adonis also revealed that he has already held talks with his political rivals in an effort to forge a cross-party agreement for a high-speed line before the next election.

He is negotiating an agreement to see all three parties go into the election with a similar plan in an attempt to convince the public that the project, one of the biggest infrastructure developments ever undertaken in Britain, will go ahead.

As part of the deal, he is sharing the 1,000 pages of detailed research carried out by the High Speed Two firm with the other political parties. He said he would not reach any final decisions before consulting them: "I will be engaging the other political parties to see if we can reach agreement on the main components. I do not want to pre-judge those discussions."

Lord Adonis again rebuffed suggestions that he would accept a job under the Tories if they offered him the chance to press ahead with the project. But the move illustrates his desire to see his vision for a high-speed network completed even if his party loses power. He said that he wanted to place the new line "above politics".

"All three political parties should go into the next election with similar commitments on high-speed rail so it becomes a national project," he said. "My aim is to forge the broadest possible political consensus, both between the political parties, central government and local government, and between the British and Scottish governments."

The Tories are treating his approach with caution. "We are happy to discuss the future of high-speed rail with Lord Adonis and with High Speed Two, but there are still fundamental differences between our firm plans and Labour's assertions," said Theresa Villiers, shadow Transport Secretary. "There will continue to be important political dividing lines on the future of high-speed rail in this country."

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