HIGH speed rail links dismissed by the Government as “too costly” could boost the North-East economy by £3.5bn, it was claimed yesterday.
The Northern Way, set up to improve the Northern economy, is calling for investment into a high speed rail network which could reduce the Newcastle to London journey time to under two hours.
The Government has previously insisted the benefits of creating a new rail link would be outweighed by the costs.
But research by the quango suggests improved transport links are essential if the North ever wants to match the South’s economy.
The Northern Way revealed yesterday that a high speed network would add £10bn to the UK’s economy over 60 years, £3.5bn of that in the North-East.
Professor David Begg, chair of the Northern Way’s transport compact, said the benefits to the economy would come not just from better North to South connections but from quicker trans-Pennine routes.
He added: “We think there is a sense of urgency with this.
We are arguing for high speed rail links not just to boost the economy and provide shorter journey times, but to also reduce the chronic congestion on the network.
“Within seven years the overcrowding on the East Coast Line will be acute and we have to start work now to avoid that.
“We haven’t tied ourselves to any particular technology, we are keeping the options for high speed open, be it improvements on the infrastructure or maglev or whatever.“ Mike Parker, spokesman for the North-East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) welcomed the Northern Way’s research, and warned that any future high speed rail link must include the North-East or risk slowing down the economy.
He said: “We really see the value that it would bring to the North-East and it is imperative that should any development be made the rail link has got to link communities in the East coast of England.
“We would be right behind any efforts to secure high speed rail links for the North-East.”
Liz Smith, assistant regional director of CBI North East said: “Business in the region needs good quality transport links to the rest of the UK, and internationally in order to compete and grow.
“It is encouraging to see new research which highlights the economic benefits that new transport infrastructure projects, like high speed rail, can bring to the North-East. It is often difficult to justify investment like this and this work will help the North set out a stronger case to government.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “This summer’s White Paper made clear the Government’s immediate priority is to increase capacity by making best use of the existing network.
“Just one new high speed line would cost tens of billions.”
The high speed rail saga has seen many twists and turns in the last five years.
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 high speed rail 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.