IN the 1760s, it could take a fortnight to travel between Edinburgh and London by coach.
A century later, in the age of rail, it had come down to 10.5 hours, due to the introduction of an express train that would become known as the Flying Scotsman.
It might seem churlish, then, to regard a journey time of just three hours and 40 minutes as disappointing, yet in truth, this saving of up to half an hour on the London to Edinburgh or Glasgow routes, is but a small benefit for Scots from the massive investment to be made in HS2. While the populations of Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham will enjoy reductions of nearly 50% in their journey times to London, and reap the economic rewards of closer links to the metropolis, this supposed engine of growth rapidly runs out of steam north of Manchester.
The needs of Scotland and its economy appear to be an afterthought in the planning of HS2 to date. Last year, Network Rail raised concerns that capacity problems could affect services running north from the end of the high-speed line into Scotland. While trains capable of 250mph speeds on that line would be able to complete their onward journey to Scotland on conventional track at lower speeds, it appears that the archaic practice of stopping services at Carstairs to separate them into Glasgow and Edinburgh-bound services would have to be reinstated, creating further delay. What clearer metaphor could there be for the lack of strategic thought that has been given to Scotland's part in this great project? The fact that the plans propose ending direct services from London to Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness – after similar proposals were dropped only last year – is a further blow.
There is now a very real risk that Scotland's economy could lose out to hub cities of the Midlands and the north of England as those centres reap the benefits of better transport links while Scotland is left to make do with a 20th-century rail network.
To avert that scenario, there must be a commitment to extend the high-speed line to Edinburgh and Glasgow, at present only an aspiration. Journey times of two and a half hours between Scotland and London could be achieved, which are essential to tempt travellers out of airports and into stations, an important factor in reducing Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions in the long term.
The pledge made by the UK Government last year to set out by 2015 a timetable for delivering high-speed rail to Scotland must not be allowed to fall by the wayside. The consequences of Scotland being left out of this great venture would be to condemn the nation to second-class rail links with both England and the continent. High-speed rail for Scotland is essential to prevent the development of a two-speed Britain.
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