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Liberals back high speed rail

The Liberal Democrats would construct an 'extensive' high speed network, beginning with a link from St Pancras in London to Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester if elected according to new policies launched today.

The proposals aim to reduce carbon emissions up to 2050, and would significantly increase long-term rail investment, introduce road user pricing to tackle pollution and congestion and hand control of buses back to local authorities, they say.

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson confirmed to NCE that the initial link to Manchester is based on proposals by pressure group Greengauge21, which in turn closely resembles a study by consultants Arup. The spokesperson said that detailed proposals for a complete network have not yet been finalised.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg said: "These proposals offer a radical alternative vision for transport in the 21st Century, compared with the tired short-sightedness of both Labour and the Tories.

"At a time when families are feeling the pressure of the rising cost of travel, only the Liberal Democrats are setting out how to make our transport system sustainable, affordable and fair."

The proposals include:

- Cutting fuel duty and abolishing Vehicle Excise Duty over the next 10 years and introducing a cost-neutral road user pricing scheme on motorways and trunk roads

- Building a high speed rail network paid for by introducing emissions-linked charges on road freight and internal flights

- Introducing rolling contracts for train operating companies to increase long-term investment and improve services

- Give power to control local bus services back to local authorities

- Introducing a new fund for rural transport

- Giving passengers a stronger voice to improve local transport services through a new passenger watchdog

They say that the existing rail arrangement with Network Rail and franchise companies would remain. Additional investment would be paid for by introducing emissions-linked charges on road freight and internal flights.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Secretary, Norman Baker said: "With Labour's 30 year plan for the railways stopping inexplicably in 2014 and no firm proposals from the Conservatives, we are the only party with concrete proposals to build a transport system fit for the 21st century.

"Motorists and passengers are getting a raw deal under Labour. We are turning into cattle truck Britain, with rail services overcrowded and congestion growing on the roads, as any commuter will tell you.

"Motorway and trunk road pricing will cost the average motorist no more but the costs will be honest and upfront and rural motorists who have to rely on their cars will save money."

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