Rail journey times could be vastly reduced if a network of high-speed lines is introduced across Britain according to a government advisor.
Professor David Begg, chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport says that ministers should start planning for 200mph trains which could see rail journeys between London and Scotland taking just two and a half hours.
The commission has warned that unless action is taken, existing intercity routes will run out of capacity by 2015.
Britain is already decades late entering the world of high-speed train journeys and the first high-speed track for the Eurostar to Brussels and Paris hasn't even been completed.
So should the UK follow the French, German, Japanese and Spanish examples and build a network of very fast trains between major cities? Or is the multi-billion pound cost and the environmental damage of building these tracks just too high?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
I would prefer to have a rail network that runs on time first!
Susan, London, UK
Why not rip up all the old tracks, demolish all the stations, get rid of all the current rail authorities/workers.
Then we could start building the system afresh, using modern technologies. Very costly and impractical but it needs doing desperately!!!
My dad used to work in the railway about 30 years ago, and he says the thing that is (most) wrong with the railway is that there are no line walkers. These people used to walk the lines, daily, and would see for themselves which pieces of track needed repaired, and the railway was at its best during those times. Instead of spending money creating a new rail network, what about investing proper funds into the railway we have, even if it means doing things the old fashioned way?
As a railway industry worker and I believe that it would benefit the UK hugely to have a new high-speed line linking the North and South. You want reasons for the trains not running on time? No dedicated high-speed lines to run on. Reactionary delays from what can often be a relatively minor incident always have a huge impact the network. The media of course does not help in its relentless persecution of anything railway related every time there is nothing more interesting to report about. Do something constructive, support this idea and it might have a chance of getting off the ground!
High speed rail links, efficient service, god, what a brilliant idea. Not that it will ever happen in this country. If approved it will be a miracle, if finished, something astonishing, if it ever works... The 60s were the death of the railway in this country, and we will never recover because there are too many fingers for the pie.
Dave Jowett, Yate, UK
This is a superb idea. The French system is a very good example of how high speed train travel can provide a viable alternative to air, even in a larger country than the UK. The environmental impact of any new lines will be far less than roads of the equivalent capacity, and the programme will also help encourage urban living and city centre work, which will reduce the pressure for suburban development. Electric trains will give great flexibility in the ultimate source of energy. We should get to work on this now. I travel a lot on business and would always prefer train to car, as it is not my job to be at the wheel.
Giles Clifford, Oxford, Oxon
How much more is that going to cost the passengers?
Rachel, Oxfordshire, UK
Yes, it will make a difference. The present system is crazy where the answer to crowded roads is to build more roads but the answer to a crowded railway is to reduce the number of trains! It will be expensive but the alternative will be for the economy to haemorrhage even more than that in the future and incur increasing frustration for both road and rail users.
John Hartley, Chippenham UK
This is a worthwhile long term project, and one which other European countries have already done, though as long as Government here thinks and acts for the short term (so that they can win the next election), it won't happen.
Traffic delays and motorway traffic coming to a standstill costs UK business a fortune in disruption. High speed trains would be money well spent - it is also better for the user, less stress and less time on the road. I will also reduce the escalating domestic air traffic, people are using planes to travel up to Scotland more than ever before.
Rob, Reading, UK
A great idea, it should help bring Britain into the 21st century. All we need now is to join the Euro. Then I'll be happy.
If we had started work on it the first time it was mentioned then we might be half way there by now. As it is when we do build it the route will end up changing a dozen times because of some silly protesters. Why can we not just do something that helps the majority of people without worrying about a small number of people being affected?
Jon, Reading, UK
If it's well managed and well run (laugh now) then I think it's a great idea. Trains are a much better bulk transporter for the environment than planes. We keep saying there are too many cars on the road, something like this is what's needed to get them off it.
Phil Evans, Keele, UK
I'm not sure we need HSLs in such a small country as much as our towns and cities need an effective, frequent and cheap local transport system. Most car journeys are short and it's local trains that "get in the way" on the main rail network - so why not provide the facility for them to operate on dedicated lines?
Let's start with re-regulating and subsidising bus services, and go on to provide underground systems (in preference to trams) in medium-large towns throughout the country. Then look at long-distance.
Neil Williams, UK
To all the people who think we should simply sort out our existing railways: we need to build more lines because our existing ones are full to bursting, which is why there are so many delays on them. The only real problem is that somebody will have to pay for this through high fares or massive taxes. And lets face it, the only reason they build some many TGV lines in France is so that the Government there has something to spend it's taxes on.
Peter McFarlane, Nottingham, UK
I'm confused! I thought this had already been looked into with tilting trains; the conclusion being that it was too expensive to upgrade the tracks and that we would probably not ever see trains going above 125mph. What happened to that? Is there a new private investor on the scene with enough dosh?
Max Richards, England
Why do we have to arrive at our destinations twenty minutes earlier using faster trains? The cost involved would/should be used to upgrade existing trains to arriving on time and in complete safety. I am not a luddite, but there comes a time where speed/time ratio is not financially viable. Far better to have an efficient rail service than part upgrade at the expense of others.
Stuart Rankin, Livingston, Scotland
People flock to London to work in higher paid jobs. Those who can afford it live in London, so they don't have to travel too far to get to work. Wouldn't it be better to put the place of work near the people? Put a corporation tax on excessive journey times for employees and provide government incentives for company relocation - maybe then we will have a more balanced system.
A lot of people posting comments here talk about how wonderful the French TGV system is but what they forget is that the French government has to subsidise TGV to the tune of over 1 million pounds PER DAY. That would give all the whingers and moaners something to squeal about wouldn't it?
Andy, Salisbury, UK
Trains are sorely underutilised in the UK; petrol prices keep getting hiked up to discourage people from using their cars, but there are viable alternatives.
Train travel should be made cheaper for commuters and just regular travellers, and whatever can be done to move more freight off the roads and onto the trains has to be a good idea.
Faster instead of more trains help by improving the efficiency of the journey, and make people more inclined to use them.
But the price has to be right (i.e., lower than they are now).
They can't just keep bulldozing land to add more lanes to motorways...
Chris Newton, Los Angeles, USA/ Hastings, UK
If we still had people who know how to plan, lay track and maintain it, this would be a great idea. Otherwise costs will just spiral, consultants get richer and the product will be unreliable. Getting skilled labour from abroad to maintain and upgrade the existing railway before it falls to bits would be more practical.
G. Haphor, London
I can't see that high speed trains would really help. Surely we 'just' need to run the existing train services efficiently, i.e. provide trains which arrive/depart when they are timetabled and are clean, comfortable and safe to use. Reasonably priced tickets wouldn't hurt either. Unfortunately, this seems to be an impossible dream!
Begg's hypocrisy and anti-car bigotry makes me nauseous. He's happy to price people out of their cars, but doesn't want to charge rail users the full cost of their obsolete technology.
Huge, London, UK
Having lived in France for some years, it's obvious to me that Britain sorely needs a fast train system comparable to the TGV. Few developed countries in Europe are now without them. It clearly is very short-sighted from an economic point of view to develop road and air transport without developing a high-quality, high-speed public transport alternative in parallel.
I would imagine many more people would use the Channel tunnel link instead of the plane if a fast service was available to Britain's major cities.
Colin, Paris, France
For too long we have been trying to squeeze too much from the rail network, running InterCity, regional, commuter and freight services all on the same tracks. Over 60% of delays are 'reactionary' delays to earlier incidents: One train is delayed by two minutes, and the five trains following it are also delayed.
Separating services will have large benefits, not just for long distance travellers but also commuters.
Rob, Leeds, UK
I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Begg. The introduction of new high-speed lines in the UK is sadly long, long overdue.
Lewis Hyatt, Cardiff, UK
That's a good idea. Then the trains can spend an even greater proportion of their time sitting in traffic jams waiting for a platform. What is needed in this country is not high-speed lines but at least a partial restoration of the lines that were basically vandalised by Beeching. Building new lines would just run into the same kind of environmental opposition that building new roads always runs into. Restoring tracks to former, now unused routes would be a different matter, because some of these routes still have the necessary embankments and cuttings.
David Hazel, Fareham, UK
We need more trains, not more speed. People are fed up with not getting a seat, not the journey time!!!
James, Dorset, UK
High-speed lines are well overdue in this country. We only have to look to our neighbours in continental Europe to see the benefits of fast, reliable and affordable travel. Given that many people cannot afford to buy homes in the expensive South East, at least decent train links may give the opportunity to commute in a reasonable time to many people. Any UK government should have the foresight to see what our European partners saw decades ago.
Pratik Roy, London
I live in Japan and I never use the bullet train because it is just too expensive. It is good for business travellers, but Japanese trains really do leave on time. There is no point in having a train that can get you to your destination in under an hour if it is 30 minutes late! And what did East Anglia do to warrant being missed out of this big plan?
The government is worried about the £30 billion+ price tag of modern trains?
How much did the war in Iraq cost?
Obviously spending money on military invasions to find bogus weapons of mass destruction is more important to the government than equipping Britain with a modern and tolerable rail system. Am I the only one who thinks that the government needs to get its priorities sorted out?
Lasse Swalborg, Edinburgh, Scotland
Travelling home from university for the holidays is a nightmare. Leeds to London is 2 nd a half hours, then it takes me 30 mins to get across London and a further hour to get home to Farnborough on South West trains. A grand total of about 6-7 hours door to door. Quicker trains can't be a bad thing. They work on the continent after all.
Katie Hutchinson, Leeds
I live in Japan and the system here is fantastic. The city centre to city centre convenience should not be underestimated. It beats flying every time. The UK should face reality now. We can only build one line from London to Scotland, and it should take in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. The Bullet train I use regularly follows the coast stopping at typically 5 cities and still takes less than four hours to Tokyo, which is 800+kms away. Don't waste any more time, start building it now¿
John, Hiroshima, Japan
It's a fantastic idea. Reduce travel time, encourage people travel by train instead of driving by car, therefore, reducing road traffic too and at the same time reducing air pollution.
Laura Chan, Manchester
I think that constructing such a high-speed rail network in Britain is essential to the country as it would encourage more people to use the train instead of their cars and at long last help give us a start to the rail network we deserve and should have had years ago.
Andrew Hunter, Harpenden, UK
The rail system is at the moment in a complete state of disrepair. The country desperately needs an upgraded rail transportation system, and I hope that it is not just limited to high-speed links between major cities, but also better and faster local services which are crucial for travelling that final distance.
James Rogers, Solihull, UK
I used to commute between Peterborough and London, and being within an hour's journey of the capital allows much more freedom in housing and quality of life. The danger here is that this service will be another Concorde - high speed convenience, but only for those who can afford inflated ticket prices. The industry must make sure that these high-speed trains are accessible by all with reasonably priced fares.
Martin Dart, Perth, Australia
Superb, can't happen soon enough. But the lines shouldn't end at Edinburgh, they should run the entire length of the UK. I believe it would bring about a transformation in the country, for the better, and taking traffic off the roads and domestic air routes would be good environmental sense.
Will the government have the courage to act though? In 1994 ScotRail promised sub 90min journey times from Inverness to Aberdeen in 10years, 6 years after privatisation it takes 140mins!
Alan Mackay, Inverness, Scotland
Pigs might fly.
Get the existing railway system working. We don't all want to go to or from London
No, Public Transport initiative is worth doing until the price of Public Transport is brought down to well below the cost of running a car - at present approximately 30p per mile per car. So with two in a car = 15p per mile per person - for door to door service.
When Public Transport can be priced at no more than, say 12p a mile it will have a chance. Not before.
Peter Judge, Brighouse, Yorks, UK
Without doubt an excellent idea but you are missing a key point.
The cost of not implementing a high speed network and forcing more traffic into the skies or onto the roads will be disastrous.
Efficient high speed rail networks are one of the greenest options we have in terms of mass transport and by having dedicated lines like those used by the TGV we will avoid the chaos (and delays) which is caused by our current mixed use railway network.
Ben, London, UK
Last week I travelled by train from Milton Keynes to Glasgow and it took over five hours, in cramped conditions. A few weeks earlier the same journey took eight hours by car. On a French TGV, travelling at 186mph it would take only two hours. But with the nimby and pro-car attitudes in the UK I doubt high-speed trains will ever happen here.
Well, if we can't manage to get a normal rail network running smoothly, why invent another one? Just another thing to go wrong and annoy everybody with!
As a non-driver the better the train service the better it is for me. I may be selfish but money spent on motorways never seems to improve times over a large distance faster trains do. Many of my friends travel by car to an airport (Glasgow or Edinburgh) then fly to London the spend as much time travelling from the city centres to the airports as the high speed trains could take centre to centre.
Dave Brown, Perth, Scotland
You're kidding, right? I just want one that works at all!
It can't come soon enough. The doubters shouldn't confuse high-speed lines with the congested system we have at the moment. One type of train running on purpose built lines would be extremely reliable in all weathers - people would lose interest in using internal flights and simply drive to the nearest station.
Not as much as one that is on time, affordable, and of a quality befitting of humans rather than cattle and profit.
Something needs to be done. Our entire transport infrastructure is already struggling. Britain could well see itself on a slippery slope where no one wants to live or do business here as everything becomes overcrowded, overloaded and overpriced.
Anthony Coyne, London, UK
Great idea. Who came up with it? Ah, the French did. Thirty years ago...
John, London, UK
A cancelled train capable of 200mph is no better than one capable of 125mph
Mike Grimes, Liphook, Slamdoor Country
Instead of pumping money into a bottomless pit like railways let's have hospitals and schools that are fit to use. If we need to get around lets have more motorways. Individual freedom, not a system that only the rich can afford. The fares on these routes will deter most people.
Michelle, Slough England
We'll spend millions on consultants and feasibility studies, the nimby-brigade will delay it by decades and if it gets past that the government, will borrow the money at exorbitant rates and buy foreign trains - all so that Londoners can pop to the other side of the country for the weekend. If it's that good an idea, let a private company build and run it.
Douglas, Aylesbury, UK
The UK needs a North-South line linking the grand old super liner passenger port at Southampton (with connections further down line to Brighton/Bournemouth/Poole/Weymouth) to Birmingham and the North or Paris/Brussels via HEATHROW. This would free up capacity on local rail lines and slots at Heathrow for transcontinental flights.
High speed rail link? Over here in ultra-congested Ireland all we would like is any train link!
Dave, Dublin Ireland
I think it is a fantastic idea. Fast train has been running in Japan and other places for over 10 years. It is even too late for Britain to implement this or think about it. This will help de-congest southern area particularly London. It will also increase mobility generally across the UK.
Ike Osuagwu, Leeds
High speed trains sound fantastic, but not realistic. We can't get slow, dirty, congested trains to run efficiently so what would be the point. We need to walk before we can run. Also with our safety record, I'm not sure we want trains hurtling around at 200 mph +.
Simon, Cambridge, England
The government says that it is trying to reduce road congestion, but their only answer seems to be to raise road tax and petrol prices. When will they realise that the only way to get people out of their cars is to invest in public transport?
Zoe Cameron, Leeds
What makes anyone think we could run a new rail system any better than the existing one? Britain isn't the size of France or Spain and doesn't need 200mph trains stuck in a siding for 45 minutes. What we need is a reliable 4 hour service that actually takes 4 hours.
Rail transport in this country largely does not meet the needs of the public because of appalling town and country planning since the end of the Second World War.
For high speed rail lines to be effective between major metropolitan centres, moves will need to be taken to ensure the public can easily get to and from the stations from their abodes and places of work. It would also need to be correctly co-ordinated with Eurostar and integrated ticketing offered.
Richard Sendall, Guildford, UK
Trains are last-millennium transport. Instead of throwing vast amounts of money into developing high-speed rail within the UK, instead we should develop more airports - after all - a train's not going to help me get from Aberdeen or Edinburgh to Stockholm or Helsinki or Adelaide, is it?
David Moran, Scotland/Australia
A report that states the obvious. The idea is so simple and sensible, but with short-sighted Treasury investment policies, we will end up patching up the existing network again, which costs more in the long-term. Ultimately, it is privatisation and fragmentation that has caused huge damage to the railways, and takes out a lot of money that could be better spent on improving the network.
John C, Bath, England
Currently the fastest rail journey time from London to Newcastle is 2hrs 50mins. Ten years ago it was 2hrs 30mins so, yes, high-speed rail should be implemented without further delay.
Also since Eurotunnel have told us today that insufficient people are using the Channel Tunnel, it is imperative that any HSR roll-out connects with CTRL to provide access for Scotland and the North.
The economic and environmental benefits (eg. from reduced air travel) that this would bring to the nation are significant.
Richard Gibson, Newcastle, UK
I have travelled on the fastest trains in the world, the French TGV and believe me, it really makes a difference. The trains are fast, safe and clean and the sooner we get a proper high speed rail network here, the better! The French have had TGVs for over 20 years, so why can't we have them?
Leon, Manchester, UK
High speed - are you kidding. How about just fixing things so you can get a 'train' to London from Brighton on a Saturday without an hour on a bus. Oh, and be able to take a bike especially since congestion charging is doing so well and there are 30% more bikes in London - they didn't get there by train, eh. There's an old short film that shows the entire 50 mile journey sped up to last about 10 mins. If they filmed it nowadays it would be probably look 'real time'.
Steve W, Brighton
The idea is a great idea. The building of more motorways to these centres will never ease the traffic jams as history has shown it just encourages more car usage and capacity is quickly used up. The direct fast lines will reduce times, make the trains more reliable on time and free up capacity for areas which do not have the high speed link. Yes we need to fix existing problems to reduce delays but we should also start the planning now so construction may start within the next ten years.
Steve, London UK