SCOTTISH transport chiefs could hold the key to bringing an ultra-high-speed Maglev rail system to the North-East.
As the Government edges towards backing plans for a high-speed rail link from London to Manchester, transport departments in Scotland and the North-East are to look at the economic benefits of linking the two regions with a 300mph Maglev train.
The Strathclyde Partnership for Transport – Scotland’s largest transport body – has set aside £250,000 to investigate setting up a high-speed rail link from Glasgow to Edinburgh and then onwards to Newcastle and Teesside.
And Maglev campaigners have called on the Government to show a similar commitment to a train service which would reduce journey times from the North-East to Heathrow to just 85 minutes.
The Maglev case was dealt a blow in July when the Government declared it “too risky and costly”. But chairman of the Scottish transport authority Alistair Watson said Scotland had been forced to look for its own rail solutions after the Government failed to back high-speed links between London and Edinburgh.
He said: “It seems we are to wait another five years before high-speed rail can be put back on the agenda and that the only route proposed by Eddington is from London to Birmingham and then later to Manchester. What are we in Scotland, and colleagues in the North-East to think about that?
“Small wonder that in both Scotland and the North-East there are calls for a feasibility study which would include the evaluation of the possibilities of a Maglev system.”
A spokesman for the transport group confirmed the Glasgow University study would look at options including traditional “steel on steel” high-speed rail as well as the benefits of a Maglev route, a feasibility study which would look at linking the North-East with Scotland.
The news has been welcomed by Alan James, chief executive of Northumberland based UK Ultraspeed.
Mr James’ company is pushing for Government investment in a Maglev line, and point to the growth in its use across Europe as an example of how the UK is lagging behind.
He said: “Maglev has the potential to genuinely transform the economy of the regions it serves. Its benefits will be felt most strongly in regions like the North-East, which Maglev will make more easily and quickly accessible for business and investment than much of the South-East today.
“From a strategic economic point of view, both the Eddington Report and Government’s Rail White Paper were underwhelming in the extreme.
“Led by Scotland, there has been a redoubling of effort to develop the case for Maglev.
“This would create a North Britain super-region capable of acting as a genuine counter-weight to London.”
The calls have been backed by the Association of North-East Councils, who say long-term planning has to start now.
A spokesman said: “In considering how best to strategically position the North-East in transport terms, the association has highlighted opportunities for collaborating with Scotland in the broader context.”
Tyneside to Teesside in 12 minutes
THE technology behind Maglev trains allows them to 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.
UK Ultraspeed boss Alan James explained what this would mean for journeys starting in Newcastle.
"First, you have to realise we would be reaching 125mph in about a minute, gliding at that speed through South Tyneside suburbs. And it is effectively silent, the Maglev makes less noise at this speed than typical background noise, accelerating through the urban fringes to reach the speed of a TGV high-speed rail train (300km/h, 186mph) within around two minutes.
"Most trains take around six minutes to reach this speed, so they’re just not suitable for routes which demand sharp acceleration and braking – and that’s typical in the UK, where the cities are closely spaced, then really turning on the power once the urban area is left behind. The Maglev would pass 300mph just north of the River Wear and would then run broadly parallel to the A19 to Teesside, cruising at 311mph (500km/h). This service would ensure passengers would reach Teesside within 12 minutes of leaving Tyneside. A service could depart every 10 minutes each way."
How the Maglev would slash journey times:
CURRENT TRAINS: Heathrow to Canary Wharf: 85 minutes.
MAGLEV: Heathrow to Teesside: 85 minutes.
CURRENT TRAINS: Newcastle to Teesside: 80 mins
MAGLEV: Newcastle to Teesside: 12 minutes.
CURRENT TRAIN: Newcastle to Liverpool via Manchester: 3 hours 38 minutes.
MAGLEV: Newcastle to Liverpool via Manchester: 60 mins