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This may be the single best idea I've seen posted on Conhome - and I don't live anywhere near the North! Its an idea that combines our focus on environmentalism with something which would strongly support business, whilst alos being a policy which would be extremely saleable to the electorate. The only question is, could we make the sums add up?

Ken Stevens

Excellent idea. Something specific to demonstrate Tory belief in the Union.

.. But make it a genuine dedicated new line, with imaginative architecture, fast-track [!) planning & land purchase and direct transition onto Eurostar lines, rather than cobble together something over crowded existing lines , causing interminable disruption to present services during construction. A £100billion over ten years must surely be affordable for the massive wider tangible and intangible benefits. Cancelling ID card scheme would represent an initial deposit.

Of course (- can't resist saying it!-), if Scotland goes independent in the meantime, it can pay for the bit north of the border ;-)

Adam in London

How can you say something makes economic sense without knowing how much it will cost? Crossrail is currently estimated to cost £16bn. The rail capacity expansion just announced by the government will cost £10bn. How much for totally new, high-spec, high-speed track linking London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, and Leeds?

Tony Lucking

Eddington reported that Europe's most extensive high speed network, France, had low business usage. Americans, the most important travellers, who filed 49,500 patents vs our 5000 last year, say that "if we can't fly there, we can't get there". Liverpool claims that lack of air service to Heathrow has increased unemployment by 40,000. Both modes of transport are needed - but rail is getting very costly - it now costs 100x more to renew a km of track than in Beeching's day, vs. an RPI rise of 13x, and a freight rate increase of less than 4! Tony Lucking


This is a good policy.

We should have been the ones who pushed for the Glasgow-Edinburgh rail link too. The SNP have a good, popular policy there.

Matt Wright

Strongly agree, go for it in really big style.


Cameron Watt

Thanks for your comments.

Tony - It's a fair point that I haven't discussed numbers as far as the potential costs and benefits of a new link are concerned.

I also accept that rail is getting much more costly than it used to be. However surely much of the inflation in costs is due to to the Government's ineptitude in procurement and management of contracts, perhaps most notably in the West-Coast mainline.

Surely there is going to need to be significant increases in both air and rail travel in the coming decades in our economy is to grow. Predicting the economic benefits of large projects such as Crossrail and the north-south rail link involves much educated guesswork. I reckon we need much better road and rail links to the north and Scotland if their eceominies are ever to start catching up with the south.

Al Gunn

This came up at a number of fringe events at conference, and it's the most significant inhibitor on the economies of regional cities. Consensus on this issue will surely be forthcoming.

Speaking on behalf of Leeds, the hour that could be saved on the journey time is significant, but the bigger barrier is cost. A standard class return ticket, Leeds to London, with no concessions and not bought well in advance (because sometimes you can't plan ahead) costs in the region of £175.

That makes a quick trip to London impossible for the vast majority of people.

Simon R

I simply cannot express enough my agreement with this excellent little piece. In fact it's the same sentiment I've been boring people with over dinner for a year. I would just like to add that high Speed Rail links could mean that small airports in Northern England could be expanded to become large scale international terminals, rather than Gatwick and Heathrow, further spreading prosperity and reducing expansion in London where space is at a premium.

We are committed to sticking to Labour's spending plans for the foreseeable future anyway. Why not spend the money on something that will actually benefit Britain for decades if not for a century, rather than useless publicity seeking initiatives. Bugger the cost.

Show me where to sign a petition; I will sign it. Suggest someone I should e-mail; I will do it. Congratulations on the article, and please don't let this issue rest here.

Tony Lucking

Cameron - I agree that all transport needs more spending. But other problems with rail - Civil Engineering contractors are now paying skilled manual workers £100 per hour. Around £2.3bn pa of renewals cost is capitalised, whereas pre 1994 it was written off as revenue spending - hence Network Rail's escalating debt and interest costs. The US Dep Sec of Transportation told me "We believe long haul railroad passenger transportation is no longer viable", and Canberra officials, asked about the Sydney - Melbourne rail scheme, echoed Eddington: "WHAT! Spend all that public money to carry tourists and old age pensioners!" Best regards, Tony Lucking.

Dave J

The US Dep Sec of Transportation told me "We believe long haul railroad passenger transportation is no longer viable"

Long-haul in the US refers to a scale of distance that is orders of magnitude beyond anything comparable in the UK. Amtrak actually operates at a profit in the one place its existence is justified by the ridership: the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington DC, via New York and Philadelphia. Assuming no maintenance problems (always a big assumption), that's about an 8-hour trip on a standard train, or 6 and a half hours on the Acela so conveniently pictured above.

"Long-haul" by contrast would mean something like the Silver Meteor from New York to Miami, or the Sunset Limited from Chicago to Los Angeles, where you're talking days of travel time.

Tony Lucking

re Dave J's point. The Dep Sec of Transportation told me he meant any rail route over 200 miles. And the bar chart in the Economist 28 July shows that rail travel per person in the USA averages about 50 Km per annum, vs our 750 in spite of the high useage of the Washington - New York - Boston route. It costs about three times as much to move a passenger by rail Euston to Glasgow, as by Ryanair Stansted - Prestwick! Tony Lucking

Cllr David Sammels

An excellent piece Cameron.

There is a marked difference between the quality and speed of trains in the UK and on the continent. The difference between the modern London-Paris Eurostar route and the dated London-Edinbugh route is nothing short of scandalous.

Such a policy would tone down the reliance on cheap short haul flights (I am as guilty as many England-based Scots in using Easyjet one hour flights to visit home to avoid a seven hour (delays included) train journey) and really demonstrate and reinforce our Unionist credentials.

David T Breaker

Britain desperately needs a high speed rail network, which I would support on the understanding it largely follows existing motorways (like much of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link does). This would have the added benefit of highlighting the train's speed (and style) to the motorists it passes at up to 189mph.

What's important also is that this railway network is not only for passengers but also for freight.

Using a system based on the Channel Tunnel's "Shuttle" service for road vehicles (i.e. where cars/lorries roll on and off the train at terminals) we could remove thousands of lorries from our roads. This would encourage industry and also suit haulage firms as time spent on the train would count as "rest" for drivers, be far faster, use less fuel and cause less wear.

We can never beat roads with rail entirely, but if we can get more lorries to drive to a terminal, get on a train and disappear to a terminal nearer their final destination that's a whole lot better.

Dave J

"...the bar chart in the Economist 28 July shows that rail travel per person in the USA averages about 50 Km per annum, vs our 750..."

The shapes of the statistical curves are radically different: most Americans, especially outside the Northeast, have NEVER ridden on a train in their entire lives. I took one from Fort Lauderdale to Jacksonville last month, but then, I grew up in Boston.


"It costs about three times as much to move a passenger by rail Euston to Glasgow, as by Ryanair Stansted - Prestwick"

Where does that figure come from?

London > Glasgow by train (single) can cost as little as £17.50 (Virgin) or £15.70 (GNER) if you book ahead, or as much as £120 for a standard open single if you need flexibility.

Stansted > Prestwick with Ryanair can cost you as little as £10 (1p+tax) if you book ahead or as much as £132 (if you're not flexible and e.g. want to travel this week on Thursday or Friday).

Of course, if you're actually in London and want to go to Glasgow (rather than being at Stansted and wanting to go to Prestwick) you'll have to pay to get yourself to the airport (another £14.50 for the Stansted express...) and since Prestwick is 32 miles from Glasgow you'll have to pay to get from there to Glasgow too.

Tony Lucking

re Tory Jim's point. Ryanair published its half year a/cs on 4 Nov, showing cost per passenger as £30 for an average haul of about 800 Km ie about £25 - 27 Stansted - Prestwick. Virgin Rail gets 5.9p per passenger direct subsidy (up from 2.8 in 2006) + 11.1p in fares (+ a share of the £1893m grant to Network Rail). It lost £9.8m in 2005/6. For the 401.5 mile journey Euston - Glasgow the cost must be nudging £110. And the planning meetings for Eurostar were moved from Central Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport! Tony Lucking


"...For the 401.5 mile journey Euston - Glasgow the cost must be nudging £110"

Interesting calculations, but I have a few follow-up questions...

Virgin run a lot of routes - is it fair to assume that Euston > Glasgow is as [un]profitable as all the rest?

Could you work out the costs on the GNER route?

Virgin pay Network Rail to use the tracks - to what extent does this cover the relevant part of the operating costs of the rail network? Who pays to staff and run the stations along the route?

Ryanair pay landing charges - to what extent do they cover the relevant part of the airport's operating costs? If the landing changes don't cover it, who else pays to staff, run and protect the airports?

"...And the planning meetings for Eurostar were moved from Central Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport!"

CDG has good transport links (including a TGV station) and has plenty of local facilities for meetings/conferences just like Heathrow and Frankfurt/Main. I've been to all three and they have more hotels than you can shake a stick at.

Many of the out-of-town airports that Ryanair flies have a car park and a bus stop - so good look if you're planning to organise a conference or meeting at, say, Gothenbury City, Frankfurt Hahn or Paris Beauvaus. I've flown to these three too - fine airports if you're hiring a car and driving away, but hosting at meeting at one? Please...

Tony Lucking

re Tory Jim's queries. Chris Green,when boss of BR Intercity, told us at the British Chambers of Commerce that the West Coast route North of Preston was a financial disaster, and it is still poorly utilised. Chris Garnett, former boss GNER, has recommended "de-wiring" North of Newcastle in Rail magazine - ie rail should stick to modest speeds on routes of less than 200 mile. The interest charge per passenger alone if Eddington's £33Bn was spent on "HS2" would be commensurate with Ryanair's total cost! And airport charges yield a profit - even BAA's Stansted has become profitable now. Tony Lucking.


Tony Lucking,

Thanks for your response, but you didn't actually manage to answer any of my questions... perhaps you could read through them and try again?



A pressure group which oppose the expansion of Stansted claim this:

"There is another form of cross-subsidy at Stansted: the actual airport operation is loss-making – to the tune of £1.12 per passenger – but car parking, shops and other retailing/commercial activities earn £3.24 per passenger, thus producing net operating profit of £2.12 per passenger..." (Based on accounts 2004-05).

Is this claim true or false?

If it's true, what do we think of this?

Does the Conservative party now support cross-subsidies?

Tony Lucking

re Tory Jim's points. Stansted landing fees have been doubled since his 2004/5 data. I believe GNER's figures are submerged in its parent company's accounts, but we know that paying the Rail Regulator 0.3p per pass-km drove it into financial failure. In addition to Virgin's direct subsidy of 5.9p per pass-km, it emjoyed a share of last year's Government grant of £1893m to Network Rail, and since privatisation, over £2m of track renewal costs per annum have been "buried" by re-labelling it capital expenditure, debt financed, whereas previously it was written off annually as revenue expenditure.
Tony Lucking.

Trains are for the rich

Standard return train travel from B'ham to London for a journey (Virgin trains) lasting just over an hour - £154 but a journey from Southampton to London return (SW trains) at the same time of day is a little over £30.

Coach travel same journey fares start at £8 to London and £5 back to B'ham.

Go figure..


"Standard return train travel from B'ham to London... £154"

This is really not rocket science. It doesn't matter what method of public tranport you choose, heavily discounted fares have substantial restrictions, full price flexible fares are, well, full price and they're flexible.

If you book far enough in advance, you can do Birmingham to London and back on Virgin trains for £20 (2 x £10 'value advance' singles).

"Coach travel same journey fares start at £8 to London and £5 back to B'ham. Go figure.."

What is there to figure out here?

Firstly, how often do you actually travel by coach? Would you honestly recommend this method of transport to a business acquaintance?

I'm not being snobby, but if I had to choose between a making that journey by train for £20 or by coach for £13 I'd be on the train.

There is also the minor matter of travel times - the train takes 90 minutes, the coach takes three hours.

How do you value your time?

order essay

I believe that David Cameron and Theresa Villiers will fix the situation

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