Sunday, 1 June 2008

Scotland needs a fast train link to Europe

I was interested to read this morning that Stewart Stevenson, the Scottish Government's transport minister had met with the UK rail minister, Tom Harris about putting in place a high speed cross-border train link between Scotland and London. Such a high speed rail link is long overdue. It is incredible that in this day and age when most other European countries are opening up their rail networks with their own high speed cross-border train services, we are still struggling to have our own fast train link and to cut the current journey time of four and a half/ five hours from London to Edinburgh/Glasgow to three hours.

At the moment I can go from Brussels to Paris on the fast Thalys train in less than 90 minutes, to Frankfurt on the ICE train in three and a half hours and the TGV down to the South of France in just under five hours via Paris. In February Spain launched its bullet train from Madrid to Barcelona (a distance of 410 miles) in just over two and a half hours and with the added bonus that passengers get a full refund if the train is 30 minutes late.

Scotland badly needs such a fast train link connecting us in a sustainable way with the rest of mainland Europe via the Eurostar link between London St Pancreas and Paris and Brussels. Having taken the Eurostar from Brussels to London on numerous occasions I'm a big fan for how easy and smooth a journey it is not to mention its being more efficient in terms of CO2 production. The trouble is once you hit London the missing link north of the border to Scotland remains.

This being Green Week in Brussels there is much discussion about making more sustainable use of our resources. Greater sustainable mobility has to be encouraged but we also need to ensure the networks and services for supporting fast trains are in place to encourage more people to switch from their dependency on flying and/or driving to greener travelling by train.

Last summer some of Europe's key high speed rail operators in 7 different countries (Eurostar in London, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Austria linked their high speed rail networks together in an attempt to make cross-border travel in Europe much easier and much cheaper. The scheme is called "Railteam" and in addition to providing a central point for information on timetables and prices it will eventually for the first time allow people to book their rail tickets through to Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium and Austria with one payment via a single website: Even if you miss your next train because there was a delay to the first "railteam" train you were travelling on, you can catch the next "railteam" train without having to change your ticket or get a new reservation. The network is also looking to include the Spanish and Italian high-speed rail links in the future.

At the moment the "railteam" service stops at London. I look forward to the day when that link is extended to Scotland and we see both Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as for example Aberdeen, Inverness on the "railteam" map as part of the Scotland - Europe via London fast train service.

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