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Superfast train set for departure

David Thompson
By David Thompson
Politics Show

A report into the feasibility of a link between Scotland and London reveals a route which serves both the east and west.

They have got it in France; they have got it in Spain - thousands of miles of high-speed rail connecting cities like Paris and Lyon, Madrid and Seville.

In Britain, we have got just 68 miles of high-speed track - and that is only to stop the Eurostar juddering to an embarrassing jog as it leaves the Channel Tunnel on its way to London.

But all of that could be about to change.

All of Britain's main political parties are committed to a European-style fast network.

They believe it could halve journey times, slash carbon emissions and give the economy a major shot in the arm.

The government has commissioned a report which examines the case for British high-speed rail and sketches out the possible routes.

Sir David Rowlands
Sir David Rowlands has produced the report for High Speed Two

Its author, Sir David Rowlands, believes such a network is viable, and will give ministers three options to choose from - including a link to Heathrow.

But that is where it gets politically tricky.

Split line

Supporters of high speed rail say the benefits to the cities it runs through are enormous, but there will be losers as well as winners, because not everyone will get to be on the route.

That is why this issue is so politically fraught - and partly why, even though Sir David's report will be ready by the end of December 2009, ministers will not release it until next March.

Uk high speed rail map

However, in an interview with the BBC's Politics Show, Sir David revealed that he will be recommending that ministers plump for an option which sees the line running from London to Birmingham, then splitting.

One branch will go west, up to Manchester and then on to Glasgow.

The other will head east, taking in cities like Leeds, possibly Nottingham and Sheffield as well as Newcastle and possibly up to Edinburgh.

However, some critics question whether high-speed rail will deliver the benefits claimed for it.

Cross party working

Professor Stephen Glaister of Imperial College, London, told the Politics Show that, despite costing £20bn or £30bn, it was doubtful whether it would reduce both carbon emissions and journey times by enough to justify spending that amount of taxpayers' money.

Lord Adonis, the Transport Minister, sets out how the government might plan a multi billion pound high speed rail link.

However Lord Adonis, the Transport Minister, is a high-speed rail evangelist and he wants to work with his political rivals in order to ensure the project goes ahead, even if Labour lose at the next election.

He also believes that by publishing a potential route in March, close to a likely general election, any flak will fall on him and not on any potential successor.

That is a brave move by a minister - but one Lord Adonis thinks is worthwhile if it means the dream of British high-speed rail could one day become a reality.

The Politics Show is broadcast on BBC1 on Sundays at 1200 GMT

Politics from around the UK...

Watch the programme again on BBC iPlayer

Plan to boost fast rail in North
20 Sep 09 |  West Yorkshire
High-speed rail proposal welcomed
26 Aug 09 |  Scotland
New high-speed rail plan unveiled
26 Aug 09 |  Business
Speed issues for holiday trains
26 May 09 |  England
Call for fast east-west rail link
26 Jan 09 |  England
New super fast train
05 Feb 08 |  Technology

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