High-speed rail may be on line

A HIGH-speed rail link to the North-East could be a step closer as an influential engineering firm investigates extending the Paris to London line.

A HIGH-speed rail link to the North-East could be a step closer as an influential engineering firm investigates extending the Paris to London line.

A consultant for Arup has revealed the company is expecting to know by spring the results of a feasibility study which could see it lobbying the Government to extend the current track out of St Pancras.

Arup was responsible for the design, procurement and construction management of the Eurostar link between Paris and London, known as High Speed 1. The research will look into the costs of extending the line to Heathrow, up to Birmingham and on to Scotland.

The route has not yet been finalised, leaving open the possibility that high-speed trains could be travelling through Newcastle.

One option for Government planners would be a Maglev system, as pioneered by Northumberland business UK Ultraspeed.

Maglev boss Alan James praised Arup for its foresight but pointed to the precedents set in Japan. On Boxing Day, officials set out their plans to replace the high-speed Bullet Train with a Maglev system.

Mr James said: “There is now a technology that will enable us to deliver the benefits of high-speed rail and a change in connectivity and economic development as far North as the Tyne and the Clyde and that is Maglev. We welcome anyone taking a look at how to extend the connections that have only just reached London, but if we are looking for a high-speed system that connects London and the cities of the North, then there is only one game in town.”

The Association of North-East Councils has welcomed Arup’s study. ANEC leader Mick Henry said: “A North-South high-speed link that includes the North-East could be a crucial catalyst for change both for this region and in creating a new economic geography for the country. We welcome the opportunity to engage in dialogue with rail industry bodies and think-tanks undertaking research into the feasibility and options for high-speed links. The association is encouraged by the emerging evidence from the Northern Way on the economic impact of investment in better and faster rail links between the North’s cities, London and the rest of the UK.

“The association is advocating to Government that it undertake a UK-wide study which takes account of all the economic, social and environmental benefits of different high-speed technologies.”

Arup have warned that any extension of the existing track will not be for many years.

The firm first raised the possibility of the original route 18 years ago, and a book has now been written detailing the challenges faced in the battle for high-speed rail.

“Linking Birmingham and the North via Heathrow could have considerable merit and bring about significant modal shift.

“The whole issue relating to creating a transport hub west of London, with links to the Midlands, the North, Scotland and Europe is exceedingly interesting.”

And the consultant laid down a challenge to MPs at the book launch.

He said: “Who are the rising stars within Government who have the vision to see beyond the four-year political cycle? Because although it is clear we need radical investment in our infrastructure, without political patronage none will be forthcoming.”

The Government warmed to the idea of High Speed 1 when transport bosses showed how the development would stimulate the huge Thames Gateway regeneration project.

Now the region’s MPs and councillors are hoping to convince the Government that a similar effect could be delivered to the North-East, with high speed thought to be worth more than £3.5bn to the region’s economy.

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Timeline

THE battle for a high-speed route has taken the latest step in its long and twisting saga. The highlights below show just how hard the region has fought for better transport links.

September 2002: The high-speed rail link gained credibility when engineers said the cost was justified.

February 2005: The Department of Transport announced it would carry out an assessment into the future of rail.

April 2006: GNER bosses said the North-East should do all it can to get a high-speed rail link.

May 2006: Network Rail said it was difficult to make a case for including Newcastle in a link.

June 2007: The North-East was dropped from high-speed rail plans when recommendations were made to create a link between London and the North-West.

July 2007: Influential think tank, Centre for Cities, published a report saying inadequate transport links were holding Newcastle back.

July 2007: A Government White Paper rules out Maglev and North-East Minister Nick Brown turns his back on high-speed rail, saying he wants to prioritise other issues.

August 2007: The North-East Assembly writes to the Government to insist high-speed rail remains part of the region’s development plans.

September 2007: Government regional quango the Northern Way tells the Government high-speed rail links to the North could bring in £10bn to the UK economy.

November 2007: Scottish transport chiefs launch their own study into a link between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The route, The Journal revealed, could extend to Newcastle and Manchester.

November 2007: Northern Way bosses tell the Government to drop their London bias and back North-South rail links.

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Jewel that cost £5.8bn

THE new St Pancras station is 10 years in the waiting and £5.8bn worth of glitz and glamour.

Described as the “jewel of the high-speed crown”, the station boasts Europe’s longest champagne bar and was finished on time and on budget. The new track will be used to provide a Japanese-style built train service during the 2012 London Olympics, taking passengers to and from a Stratford station in just seven minutes.

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