Scotland needs a high speed rail network to link Edinburgh and Glasgow to London, to boost the economy while providing a low carbon alternative to air travel; but the UK is falling behind our European neighbours, says Falkirk East MSP Cathy Peattie
“People will travel, and we need to ensure that they can do so in the most environmentally friendly way possible. We have to ensure that rail is an attractive alternative to air travel.
“France and Spain each have 60 times more high-speed track than we have in the UK, and Italy has 16 times more. The 385-mile journey from Madrid to Barcelona takes just two and a half hours. Compare that to a journey from Edinburgh or Glasgow to London, which is roughly the same distance, and it can be seen that a high-speed link could halve the current four-and-a-half-hour journey, which would give trains the edge over planes. The Madrid to Barcelona air route used to be very profitable, but many passengers have now switched to the train.
“Governments around the world are accelerating new investment in transport infrastructure as a response to the economic crisis. We need to ensure that the route from London to Scotland is developed sooner rather than later.
“The UK is falling behind our European neighbours. The issue that we are discussing is not a matter of prestige; it is a matter of making economic and environmental progress. Will we restrict our economic potential by dithering and delaying? Will we continue to rely on slow and increasingly crowded trains that make people prefer to fly? Or will we get on with it and build a London to Scotland link that is fit for the 21st century?”
Cathy gave her support to measures that could reduce the need to travel, such as better use of technology, but said that there are many good reasons why people will still want to travel, so if we are to persuade people to forsake planes, then the lower carbon alternative of rail travel must be made more attractive. Until the high speed link is built, improvements in pricing, facilities, convenience and accessibility could make rail more attractive, but the long term solution is high-speed London to Scotland rail travel.