Page last updated at 19:19 GMT, Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Cheap fast trains 'are transport future' - Lord Adonis

"We need to assess what 21st century transport links we are going to need"

Affordable high-speed rail travel represents the best way to improve the UK's inter-city links, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has said.

Britain must choose between faster trains, extra motorways or more planes, he told the BBC, as he received a blueprint for a new £60bn 250mph line.

The route would link London to the West Midlands and then extend further north.

The government will reveal its final plans in March, although critics say they should be made public earlier.

The company, HS2, had been set up by ministers to identify a viable route for the new line, and delivered its report on Wednesday.

It envisages 400-metre long trains, capable of carrying 1,100 passengers and operating from a new central London station.

In the interests of democracy and getting the best value for money for taxpayers the results need to be made public now
Professor Stephen Glaister, RAC Foundation

Lord Adonis said the development could be financed through public-private partnerships, similar to the Channel Tunnel rail link.

"I want Britain to be a pioneer in low-cost, mass-market high-speed rail," he said.

He told the BBC he wanted a railway which "made it easier for all people - not just the better off - to get round the country" and that made movement of goods and traffic "environmentally sustainable".

"We need to assess what 21st Century transport links we are going to need as a country between our major cities.

"What transport capacity we're going to need; high-speed trains, running at 200mph, or additional motorways, or additional planes."

Any new line is thought likely to pass through the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire. The report also contains plans in less detail for an extension of the line to locations north of the West Midlands and up to Scotland.

If the full plan is adopted, there could be 18 trains an hour on the route, with 20,000 passengers travelling in and out of London every hour.

Funding crisis

Building work could begin in 2017, with the first trains running in 2025, and the scheme could cost £60bn, the report said.

The RAC Foundation's director, Professor Stephen Glaister, said the government's delay in publishing the HS2 report would undermine public debate on transport in the run up to a general election.

He said: "We are in the middle of a public funding crisis, not least in the transport arena, yet we have support for a multi-billion pound, high-speed rail scheme from all three main political parties.

"But perversely Labour is now the only party with access to the definitive report on whether there is actually an environmental and economic case for the line.

A train at Edinburgh Waverley station
The link will provide a fast service between London and Edinburgh

"In the interests of democracy and getting the best value for money for taxpayers the results need to be made public now."

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "High-speed rail can bring major benefits to passengers, the economy and the environment.

"However, money set aside for new high-speed lines must allow much-needed investment in other rail projects to go ahead, to ensure that no part of the network is left behind.

"The passenger must come first. It is essential to think not just about the route of any new line but also issues such as ticket prices and stations."

Network Rail has previously proposed a new £34bn high-speed railway line linking Scotland and London by 2030, and in 2008 the Conservatives set out a £20bn plan to build a high-speed link between London and Leeds.

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