To Scotland in just 35 minutes

The North-East's prosperity would be transformed by linking into a revolutionary high-speed rail connection being developed in Scotland, say experts and business chiefs.

Maglev train

The North-East's prosperity would be transformed by linking into a revolutionary high-speed rail connection being developed in Scotland, say experts and business chiefs.

Scottish officials have decided the maglev service is the best option for an ultra-high speed connection between Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the journey time between the two cities being cut to just 12 minutes.

Political support has been growing for the link, in which trains levitate on magnets, with experts saying it would offer much more than another transport systems.

The system, with allows trains to run at more than 300mph, would bring the economies of the two cities together and enable them to pack a much more competitive punch on the world stage.

Research suggests the link would help pull in new annual inward investment of up to £500m a year.

And experts and business chiefs say the North-East's fortunes could be similarly transformed if it joins in to create a North of Britain "super-region".

Support for the link came last night from Mick Henry, chairman of the Association of North-East Councils, and Tyne Bridge MP David Clelland.

Mr Henry, who earlier this year announced a study into a maglev line between Tyneside and Teesside, said it was time to be "aspirational and bold".

He argued that it was time to look at using maglev technology to create a "North Britain super-region" linking the North-East to Scotland and cities across the North.

He explained: "Better connections through high-speed links from the North East to Scotland could create more favourable business and tourism opportunities.

"It could help promote the region nationally and internationally, while even opening up new employment opportunities for commuters."

Mr Clelland said improved links with other regions were vital for the North-East's economic development. He said it would be more environmentally friendly than flying.

And Andrew Sugden, from the North-East Chamber of Commerce, also highlighted the potential for real regeneration dividends from such a development.

A maglev service would cut journey times between Newcastle and Edinburgh to just 35 minutes. If it were extended southwards, Liverpool could be reached in an hour and London in 100 minutes.

And the taxpayer could end up benefiting financially from the creation of the £16bn network, without having to put a penny up front to build the system.

The claim comes from Northumberland-based Alan James from maglev champions UK Ultraspeed, which is developing the Scottish proposals and working with North-East council chiefs on the Teesside-Tyneside link.

Mr James says a consortium could be put together to pay for initial costs, with the taxpayer paying the operator between £200m to £300m a year over a 30-year mortgage to run and maintain the Teesside-Tyneside link, for example.

But that would be offset by up to £150m in revenue raised, £30m in time savings and overall economic benefit of £500m a year, with areas like Tyneside enjoying a doubling in their competitiveness. The system would be handed over to the public sector at the end of 30 years as new.

"It makes it possible to live in Glasgow and work in Newcastle. Financial services jobs in Edinburgh become available to people in North Yorkshire and Cleveland.

"If you want to create a Northern Way super-region, you have to bring those economies together. Only maglev can do that," said Mr James, whose company is supported by major German firms who developed a maglev link in China.

Newcastle University Professor Andrew Gillespie said research showed a high-speed network linking the cities of the North could add "substantial" economic benefits particularly in terms of cutting-edge innovation.

"If the cities of the North were connected in this way, they could begin to rival the economic power of London," added the geography expert.

The NECC's Andrew Sugden said high-speed rail links and maglev would bring regeneration dividends, and agreed it was perhaps time to look towards Scotland to begin that process.

"If this is one way to develop the high-speed infrastructure in the UK on a piece by piece basis, if that is the only way we can secure that, we would be fully supportive of it," he said.

Mr Sugden also said a Glasgow-Edinburgh link would be even stronger if it joined up with the North-East.

MP David Clelland, a member of the Commons transport committee, said improved east-west links as well connections to Scotland and London were vital for economic development.

The Labour MP added that a maglev system would be a much better of getting people around the country and more environmentally-friendly, eliminating the need for domestic flights.

The Department for Transport has said high-speed rail will addressed in its long-term rail strategy due to be published next month.

Uk Ultraspeed estimated journey times

Newcastle-London: 1hr 40 minutes

Newcastle-Liverpool: 60 minutes

Newcastle-Edinburgh: 35 minutes

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System reduces the friction

The world's only currently operating maglev system is in China where it has been running at more than 250mph since 2003.

The German-designed service between Shanghai international airport and the city centre takes just eight minutes to complete the 19-mile journey. A second 60-mile track is also being developed in China.

Maglev trains can run much faster than traditional railways because they use magnets to float a few centimetres above the tracks, with the lack of wheels in direct contact with the rails meaning there is substantially less friction.

A 20-mile test track has been built in North-West Germany, which was the scene of a 125mph accident last year in which 23 people died.

Britain also once had the world's first running maglev system, at Birmingham airport. But it suffered from reliability problems after 11 years of operation and was axed in favour of a conventional system in 1995.

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Single answer to the misery

Commuter misery in the North-East could be avoided by the formation of a single strategic transport authority covering Tyne and Wear.

That was the suggestion raised as transport experts and business leaders met at the Winter Gardens in Sunderland last night to discuss the best ways to connect the regions and employment areas.

Newcastle City council leader John Shipley said: "This issue of transport is probably the most pressing issue of our region. For the private sector in particular, those having to cross our rivers - which are a pretty unique feature of our region - they are very aware that this is a very important issue."

His comments follow a report published by the OECD last year which was severely critical of the inability to co-ordinate and direct transport provision in Tyne and Wear.

One possible solution is in the Draft Local Transport Bill going through Parliament. It offers an opportunity to integrate transport services by creating a single STA.

Bernard Garner, director general of Nexus, hailed the draft Bill as one of the best steps in public transport since the seventies.

He said: "I'm very encouraged by the discussions of the draft Bill. I think for the first time in many years the Government has recognised the importance of transport in our wider objectives."

He said the formation of a STA would "make sure public transport is fit for purpose."

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On the fast track to reform

A revolutionary 311mph maglev link between Tyneside and Teesside is being studied by North-East council chiefs.

The Association of North East Councils (Anec) launched the "visionary" investigation into the possibility of the magnet-powered connection between the two conurbations earlier this year.

Senior local authority figures are considering the planning and funding implications, along with the social and economic benefits.

A full-scale feasibility study will then be launched if the scheme is found to be worth pursuing, with a broader group of figures from across the region drawn into the process.

A key goal has also been to influence the Government's long-term rail strategy, due to be published next month, while a Tyne-Tees maglev link could put the region in prime position to be included on a national route.

The study also involves Alan James, the Northumberland-based project leader of maglev champions UK Ultraspeed.

He has said the Tyne-Tees link could carry the equivalent of 40,000 car journeys each day. It could also be linked to spurs running on to Wearside and Durham Tees Valley Airport.

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Rail boss in row over future of rapid link

A rail chief bidding to run East Coast trains has been caught up in a row over the development of a high-speed link to the region.

National Express boss Richard Bowker has spearheaded his company's efforts to win the new East Coast Main Line franchise, which will be awarded by the Government later this year, and promised to make improvements.

But it has now emerged that he sits on the advisory panel of an organisation that has called for a new high-speed link via the North-West to be developed before such a route is built on the East Coast.

Business chiefs warned the region could lose out on a new North-South connection for a generation after the Greengauge 21 report called on ministers first to press ahead with an £11bn link between London, Birmingham, the North-West and on to Scotland.

The row grew after it emerged a transport consultant - a director of Greengauge 21 - has acted as an adviser to the Northern Way, a project designed to invigorate the region.

Mr Bowker also used to head the now-defunct Strategic Rail Authority and was involved in a bid by Virgin Rail to run the East Coast franchise - linking the North-East with Scotland and London - which called for a new high-speed line for the route in 2000.

Senior Newcastle councillor Greg Stone said: "In terms of a potential conflict of interests there, it does raise some issues." He also said he would like to see improved links to the North-West and North-East, but was not hopeful because of the Government's record on transport projects.

Andrew Sugden, from the North-East Chamber of Commerce, said: "Presumably Richard Bowker is one of the people who is convinced that the East Coast presents a significant opportunity for the high speed rail link."

A spokeswoman for National Express Group said it could not say anything about what it had put in its franchise bid. She also declined to comment on Mr Bowker's association with the not-for-profit Greengauge 21 organisation other than to refer The Journal to its website.

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