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.