Eleven UK major cities have today joined forces to call for the development of a high speed rail network.
Leaders from Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield believe that not only will such a network link centres of economic development in the UK, but that it will also connect to the high-speed network already in existence in Europe.
Manchester City Council Leader and campaign chairman Sir Richard Leese said: “A high speed rail link in the UK would mean shorter journey times, improved reliability, accessibility and greater capacity and all this, most importantly, would have a dramatic effect on the nation’s economic output.
“There are 3,480 miles of high speed railway lines in mainland Europe with a further 2,160 miles under construction and 5,280 miles planned for the future. In Britain, despite inventing the world’s first passenger railway we only have 68 miles in operation.
“Britain’s railways have not kept pace with the development of our cities. One third of the UK’s population live in cities; many millions more commute into them every day; London and the cities behind this campaign generate 55% of the nation’s wealth between them. We cannot continue to grow the UK’s economy and compete on a global stage without a high speed rail network in the UK.”
Today, Leese called on members of the public and business leaders to show their support for the campaign by signing an online pledge.
“We know there’s huge support out there for a high speed rail network and we’re really keen to make sure those supporters sign up to our online campaign.”
The campaign, dubbed HSR UK, comes a week after Network Rail unveiled its plans for a high speed line from London to Scotland via Birmingham and Manchester. But the rail operator ruled out a spur to Leeds on cost-benefit grounds.
HSR UK said Manchester journey times to London could be reduced to one hour and 13 mins against a current time of two hours and eight minutes and London to Scotland journey times cut to less than three hours compared with a current time of four hours 30 mins between London Euston and Glasgow Central.
HSR UK said a high speed line would also increase the capacity of rail services across the UK. It could carry up to 15,000 passengers per hour in each direction between London and other major cities, with the potential to almost double this with the use of double decker trains. Furthermore, developing a high speed line would free up capacity on the conventional railway for short distance local travel, as well as for freight.
This improved capacity, coupled with the increased speed will also mean that delays are kept to seconds, not minutes or hours.
The increased speed could also lead to a potentially huge shift from air to rail for domestic journeys for both business and leisure travellers. Other countries have shown that where rail journeys can be reduced to under three hours, significant numbers of air passengers will make the move to rail. The Eddington transport study in 2006 estimated that the potential carbon savings from transferring London-Scotland air passengers to High Speed Rail could be 0.5 million tonnes per year. Over 60 years this would amount to 30 million tonnes – valued at £3.2 billion. Conventional rail cannot achieve this, and new advances in technology mean that journeys on High Speed trains can be as energy efficient as on conventional trains – and in some cases better.
“We believe the case has been made,” said Leese, “both by research and by looking at the performance of our international partners, for high speed rail as part of a wider strategy to address the transport constraints on our major cities’ ability to deliver their, and thus the country’s, sustainable growth potential.
“There has been much planning done already; despite the current recession it is vital that we move beyond planning and into concrete actions by developing a high speed rail network for the UK that will allow the economy to flourish.”
Transport secretary Lord Adonis welcomed the campaign.
“I welcome the HSR\UK campaign,” said Adonis. “These cities should be congratulated for working together to secure the economic and environmental benefits that high speed rail could bring.”
Conservative and Liberal Democrat transport spokesmen both supported the move also.
“I welcome HSR\UK and the work they are doing for a more ambitious future for high speed rail,” said shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers.”The Conservatives have long been aware that the argument for high speed rail goes beyond faster journey times to London, and covers a transport revolution focussed on connecting some of our great British cities outside the south east.
“That is why the Conservatives are the only party to have a time-tabled and costed commitment to deliver a substantial high speed rail line. This will not only boost local economies and generate new jobs, it will also create entirely new axes of economic activity.”
Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Nornman Baker added: “Britain desperately needs a high speed rail network to bring it up to European standards. We cannot hope to become a low carbon economy unless we invest for the long term in decent public transport infrastructure.
“The Lib Dems were the first party to commit to high speed rail and we are delighted that all parties support it. We see high speed rail as an essential part of our future transport system. It is green and it is good for the whole economy, creating jobs and driving investment across the country.”