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Transport group calls for all of UK to have high-speed rail by 2050

High-speed rail connecting all parts of the UK by the middle part of the century would inject “rocket fuel in Britain’s economy”, a leading transport think tank has claimed.

The transport group Greengauge 21 has produced a new report – Beyond HS2 – which offers a comprehensive view of what Britain’s railway should look like by 2050. 

Based on almost a year of work and analysis, the report concludes that our rail strategy should for the first time have a specific objective – to transform national productivity; using connectivity to put rocket fuel into what should be a national drive to transform productivity levels.

According to the paper, the move would shrink a long-standing productivity gap with countries such as Germany, Italy and France. While new networks would also reduce an over-reliance on London by lowering journey times and allowing other cities to flourish, it added. 

A new connection in the west midlands would see HS2 trains speed to cities such as Bristol, Cardiff, Newcastle and Edinburgh, reducing the need for environmentally harmful cars, Greengauge 21 said.

Commenting on the report, one of its five co-authors, Greengauge 21 director Jim Steer, said: “Britain lacks a long term national railway strategy beyond HS2. We need a plan to put rocket fuel into our economic productivity and today’s report sets out proposals to do so. It is vital for the future of the country that no region is left behind, and the national railway strategy needs to reach all parts of the country. To transform productivity across the whole of Britain, we need to transform the connectivity of dozens of cities the length and breadth of the country. Fundamentally, we need to completely re-orientate the railway from a ‘hub-and-spoke’ centred on London to a fully national network.”

An extra 101 miles of high-speed lines — with trains exceeding 185mph — would be built by 2040 under the new proposals. And there would be 127 miles of fast lines, with speeds between 125 and 155mph. Existing lines would also be upgraded to allow high-speed trains to use them. The journey time from Edinburgh to London could be cut to just 3hr 15min, the report claims.

Key proposals in the report include:

  • Fully integrating HS2 into the national network and adding an upgraded fast route from Birmingham to Bristol Parkway to carry HS2 trains, which would continue to the south west and south Wales
  • A major upgrade of the East Coast mainline for the first time since the 80s, so passengers in the North East are not dependent on indirect HS2 services via Birmingham to reach London.
  • New high speed lines in: - Scotland – achieving a 3h 15m journey time from Scotland to London and shortening rail journeys from Edinburgh northwards dramatically
    - Essex & East Anglia – with a new high-speed line from London to Stansted and beyond towards Cambridge/Colchester, alleviating the West Anglia and Great Eastern Mainlines, both of which are at capacity, and delivering a 15-minute London-Stansted journey time
  • A series of new and improved city region rail networks to support city-based growth strategies

Workers employed in the UK have lower productivity levels than their continental counterparts, the group said. It is 10.5% lower than Italy, 22.8 per cent lower than France and 26.2 per cent lower than Germany, it said, based on a current price GDP per hour worked basis. 

Commenting on the proposals, a DfT spokeswoman said: “This government has an ambitious and clear strategy for the future of our rail network. “HS2 will provide the backbone of our railway system, improving connections between our major cities, boosting productivity, delivering better journeys for passengers and driving economic growth across the country. “With Crossrail nearing completion and plans progressing on Northern Powerhouse Rail, we are ensuring the whole country has the connections it needs.”