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High speed rail but same speed to London

Richard Moss | 12:33 UK time, Wednesday, 30 March 2011

High speed train

Can high speed trains like this really boost the North East economy if they don't pass through the region?

The Government has set a lot of store by the potential positive economic effect of high speed rail on the North East.

The Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has even said it will provide the biggest boost to the region for decades.

That might seem slightly strange as there are no current plans for a high speed line north of Leeds.

But by connecting the existing East Coast Main Line into a high speed line running from Leeds to London, the Government has said the North East could see huge benefits.

The Transport Minister Theresa Villiers was in Tyneside last week to sell that idea to the region as part of a consultation about the high speed rail plans.

The consultation document presented there talks about a half-hour cut in journey times between Newcastle and London.

It says journey times would fall from 3hrs 9mins to 2hrs 37mins.

But anyone who has travelled on the East Coast Main Line might have spotted something odd.

It is in fact already possible to travel by train from Newcastle to London in 2hrs 37mins.

Admittedly, it's only possible on one train a day via an express that goes non-stop southwards.

But nevertheless, that does mean the existing high speed rail plans won't actually cut the fastest journey time betweeen the North East and the capital.

Map of proposed high speed rail lines

There are no plans to bring high speed rail any further north than Manchester or Leeds.

It might mean there are more trains travelling at that fastest time, but is that really the economic game-changer the Government's talked about?

Former North East minister Nick Brown certainly doesn't think so. He says the region would be much better off if the billions invested in high speed rail were diverted into increasing capacity on the existing East Coast Main Line instead.

And the Taxpayers Alliance has released a report today suggesting that the North East will actually see its service stand still or even deteriorate if high speed rail goes ahead.

The Government disagrees, insisting that the capacity problems on existing lines won't be solved unless you build new ones.

But in reality the only real game-changer for the North East would probably be a proper high speed line in the region.

That would cut the journey from Newcastle to London to 2hrs, and from Teesside to London to 1hr 40mins.

The Government says that might be a possibility in the future, but at the moment the only firm plans are for a link between Birmingham and London.

There would then be an extension later to Manchester and Leeds, but even that will be decades away. The West Midlands line could be open by 2026, the northern extensions would follow in 2032 at the earliest.

There is a legitimate debate to be had about the merits and demerits of investing billions in high speed rail. And it may well bring economic benefits.

But so far there seems little concrete evidence that the existing plans will be a quantum leap for the North East.


  • Comment number 1.

    Heard it all before.
    Just like when we were told the channel tunnel was going to benefit the North East.

    Same old.

    And before that it was the Freightliner depots.

    And before that it was the Grand Union extension.

    And before that it was the Drovers road.

    And before that it was the ferry to Lindisfarne.

    And before that it was proper gates on Hadrian's wall.

    Ahhh. Feeling old. Amazing how gullible some folk are.


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