July 20, 2008

Pounds 30bn Bid to Build High-Speed Rail Line Unveiled

Plans for a North-South Pounds 30bn high-speed rail line with links to Europe are to be unveiled - connecting Yorkshire to Paris in just three hours.

The line, which has the backing of more than 20 councils opposed to the expansion of Heathrow, would run through Yorkshire and follow the M1.

Passengers from Sheffield and Leeds could reach London in less than two hours. Links via the Channel Tunnel would mean travellers could go from Sheffield to Paris in three hours, Manchester to Amsterdam in four hours and Leeds to Frankfurt in five-and-a-half hours.

Plans for the scheme, which could be completed by 2030, are being unveiled on Monday by the 2M Group - an all-party alliance of local authorities unhappy about development plans at Heathrow.

The work of Harrogate-based senior railway engineer Colin Elliff, the proposed project could replace about 30 per cent of Heathrow's 645 flights a day, stopping the need for a third runway and opening up more of the North to businesses.

Mr Elliff said his proposals came in two parts. First would be building a line dubbed High Speed North, with trains reaching speeds of 200mph, shadowing the M1 up to Leicester, with a branch to Birmingham.

An extension would be built to Doncaster. The third phase would see it go to Manchester via Sheffield, and from Sheffield to Leeds. The Manchester to Sheffield link would require the former Woodhead rail tunnel to reopened for high-speed track.

A fourth phase would take the high-speed line from Leeds to Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. A further extension from Manchester would go to Liverpool.

Mr Elliff said: "The incremental stages would develop into a national high-speed system. This would allow links between all Midlands, Northern and Scottish conurbations, as well as to London and near-Europe destinations.

"It would comprise a true network, a step change beyond the London-centric proposals currently in the public domain."

Mr Elliff's proposals would see conventional rail links improved at Heathrow.

Edward Lister, leader of Wandsworth Council in south-west London, said: "The airlines and airport operators have long

been powerful advocates for their industry. Yet the need for equally influential rail 'champions' has never been greater.

"Whatever the future holds for Heathrow, can we really continue to ignore the potential of high-speed rail to transform the way we travel both in the UK and Europe?"

Richmond Council leader Serge Lourie added: "The country's roads are grinding to a halt and all ministers want to do is put more planes in the sky and more cars on the ground.

"Even expanding just the existing Heathrow runways would bring another million road journeys.

"The real demand is for sustainable transport options that actually help people and businesses move around the country."

Mr Elliff said his proposal would serve far more of the country than rival plans to build a high-speed rail line from London direct to Heathrow, then up to Birmingham and Manchester.

That would involve diverting all services from the North West by running them through the airport, he said, and a rail route would have to follow the twisting M40 motorway which would slow down journey times.

"High Speed North offers a radical departure from current high speed line proposals in that it offers a genuine network, not just following London-centric radial axes," he said.

"This offers massive benefits for regional connectivity, and seems to tick all the boxes so far as institutions such as (development agency) the Northern Way are concerned."

A recent survey by transport consultancy Atkins concluded that building a high-speed rail line between Yorkshire and London would generate Pounds 29bn for the national economy.

A new East Coastline - rather than Mr Elliff's central spine - would cost Pounds 12bn and it says that building a line via Yorkshire rather than the North West would generate the best returns for investment.

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