The Scottish Government is preparing to announce “a sensible way forward” on creating a high-speed rail link between London and Scotland, according to Scotland’s transport minister.
The SNP has put plans to create a separate 30-minute line between Edinburgh and Glasgow by 2024 on hold in preparation for an announcement of route options for extending the UK high-speed rail network to Scotland.
Scottish transport minister Derek Mackay suggested proposals to connect both cities to HS2, or one city with a forwarding connection, may be under consideration by the UK Department for Transport (DfT).
Opposition MSPs questioned why the Scottish inter-city route had been “shelved” when it could have delivered improved journey times “ten years ahead of any UK plans”.
Mr Mackay said the Edinburgh-Glasgow link has not been “shelved” but “it is not possible to progress planning for a high-speed rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow any further until a cross-border high-speed route is identified”.
Speaking in Holyrood, Mr Mackay said: “The joint work currently undertaken with the DfT to identify route options for extending high-speed rail into Scotland is now nearing completion.
“The Cabinet Secretary fully expects to be in a position to share these findings in the coming months.”
Last year, UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin decided to accelerate the construction of HS2 phase 2a, from London to Crewe, so that it is ready by 2027 with a view to extending the route at the earliest opportunity.
An update on bringing HS2 to Scotland is expected in early 2016 with a decision due in the autumn, Mr McLoughlin said.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie asked whether the Scottish Government still intends to deliver 30-minute journey times by 2024.
He said: “The Scottish Government grandly told us that the high-speed rail link between Glasgow and Edinburgh was not dependent on the UK scheme.
“Journey times of just 30 minutes, they said, could be done independently by 2024 – ten years ahead of any UK plans.”
Mr Mackay said: “In terms of 2012, when that position was outlined, there wasn’t a commitment from the UK Government – there wasn’t even a suggestion from the UK Government – that high speed rail would come to Scotland.
“There is now an opportunity to integrate our ambitions and aspirations, which we have stated, in a way that works in partnership and is a sensible approach”.
Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “Surely regardless of where the high-speed link crosses the border, whether it is the east coast or the west coast, a high-speed link between Edinburgh and Glasgow will be integral to the completion of that system?
“Is it therefore so difficult to take forward that project at an earlier stage than simply deciding where it is going to come in?”
Mr Mackay said: “If high-speed rail has options to connect Edinburgh and Glasgow, or one city then connecting, then surely it is right that we assess our proposals in that light – integrating those proposals in terms of Edinburgh and Glasgow in view of and in light of what is proposed for high-speed rail coming from the south.”