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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 November 2007, 12:47 GMT
Rail link 'a double-edged sword'
Eurostar train
Eurostar trains will operate from St Pancras from next week
The completion of a high-speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel could put Scotland at a disadvantage, it has been claimed.

London's St Pancras station, which will accommodate Eurostar trains heading to and from France and Belgium, is opening after an 800m refurbishment.

Businesses voiced fears that the faster link to Europe could be a double-edged sword which would hit Scotland.

However, the UK Government said it would benefit the whole country.

The Queen was visiting St Pancras on Tuesday to open train company Eurostar's new terminal and the completed Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

This is good news for London, but it is a double-edged sword for Scotland
Ron Hewitt
Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce

The 68-mile link runs from St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel opening at Folkestone in Kent, offering quicker journey times on services to Paris and Brussels.

The station will become the new home for the 186mph trains from next week.

However, research carried out by The Independent newspaper has suggested that the link could marginalise Scotland.

It said it would be quicker to travel from London to Marseilles or Switzerland than to get to Montrose.

The paper's travel editor, Simon Calder, told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that cities like Amsterdam and Cologne would have the same journey times from the south east of England as Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Improved link

There would also be a winter service which could take skiers to the French Alps in the same time it would take to get to Aviemore by train.

The chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, Ron Hewitt, said he had concerns about the new link.

"This is good news for London, but it is a double-edged sword for Scotland," he said.

"Clearly it is an improved link to Europe, but it really does widen the divide between north and south."

Surely, this is an unalloyed good news story for the whole of the country
Tom Harris
Rail Minister

Mr Hewitt said the south east of England was a very important tourist market for Scotland and the new services would give people in those areas "real choices".

However, he added: "The distances are a real problem for us. We are on the periphery of Europe and it yet again makes us competitively disadvantaged."

Mr Hewitt said journey times to London were also important for the financial services sector, while other businesses had concerns about the impact that congestion on the railways would have on freight.

The chief executive called for faster rail links from Edinburgh and Glasgow to London.

Journey times

UK Rail Minister Tom Harris said this issue was still on the table, but that the case had not yet been made on economic or environmental grounds.

However, he rejected suggestions that the new Channel Tunnel link would marginalise Scotland.

"The implication of that suggestion is that if this high speed line had not been built then Scotland would be better off," he said.

"Surely, this is an unalloyed good news story for the whole of the country."

The minister added that the 8bdn upgrade of the West Coast Main Line would be completed next year, "significantly" reducing journey times from Edinburgh and Glasgow to London.

In pictures: St Pancras reborn
05 Nov 07 |  In Pictures


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