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How Scotland will get shafted by HS2

By Jack Irvine17 February, 2017


I’m just a simple wee laddie from Glasgow and I don’t have a degree in logic from Oxford or Cambridge but even someone with a two-figure IQ should be able to spot the financial, social and environmental disaster looming that is HS2.

I can understand why ex-PM David Cameron backed the project to support his misguided Chancellor and his dream of a “Northern Powerhouse”.

But why would Theresa May want to continue with this project, now estimated by many to eventually cost £200billion.

I’ll say that again – £200 billion!

Readers of our blog might find it useful to examine why Scotland is going to get a very raw deal from HS2.

HSUKFollowing a meeting earlier this week with the brilliant railway engineers Quentin Macdonald and Colin Elliff, the men behind the alternative scheme HSUK, I asked them to specifically examine where Scotland features on the HS2 plans.

Here’s what they have to say:


HS2 has been planned from the start with a “West Coast” route to Scotland, which would split in Clydesdale (near Carstairs) with separate branches to Edinburgh and Glasgow.  This route would be an onward extension of HS2 Phase 1 (London–Lichfield) and HS2 Phase 2A (Lichfield–Crewe).

A “West Coast” HS2 route to Scotland based upon HS2 Phases 1 and 2A is compromised by the following critical flaws:

  • Insufficient capacity on the two-track stem of HS2 to provide high-speed services from London to all cities in the Midlands, North and Scotland served by the present intercity network.
  • Major engineering/environmental difficulties in building a dedicated high-speed line through the fringes of the English Lake District and through the Scottish Southern Uplands – a “Shap base tunnel” circa 50km long between Kendal and Penrith would be required, plus a “Beattock tunnel” about 10 to 15km long
  • Limited connectivity of the new line – HS2 would connect Edinburgh and Glasgow only to London, Birmingham and possibly Manchester
  • Due to the “Carstairs split”, routes from Birmingham and Manchester to Edinburgh and Glasgow would only operate at two-hourly frequency
  • This split effectively precludes HS2 services to more northerly Scottish cities such as Dundee, Aberdeen, Perth and Inverness
  • Overall infrastructure costs of circa £100 billion, with £25 billion attributable to a new HS2 route from Lancashire to Edinburgh and Glasgow. (Of course, if the £200billion forecast is reached, just double these numbers).
  • Existing West Coast Main Line and East Coast Main Line intercity services reduced in frequency, journey times lengthened.

All these difficulties have combined to sabotage the business case for a dedicated HS2 route to Scotland.

In 2016, HS2 Ltd released a further report examining options to build limited lengths of new “cut-off” lines following the West Coast Main Line (rather than build a full-length, high-speed line) to achieve a London-Edinburgh/Glasgow journey time of three hours.

There will not be a flow of business traffic to the North of England but in fact the opposite would happen

Massive environmental and cost issues seem likely also to render this initiative unviable, and all the fundamental connectivity issues listed above will remain.

HS2 Ltd has never given serious consideration to the obvious alternative of an “East Coast” approach to Scotland, running via Newcastle to Edinburgh and then Glasgow.  The advantages of this alternative are demonstrated in the vastly superior performance of the High Speed UK scheme, with its London-Glasgow route fully designed at 1:25,000 scale.


  • Greater capacity of HSUK’s 4-track route following the M1
  • Easier and less controversial terrain through which to build a new line, with far less tunnelling required
  • Much superior intercity connectivity for Edinburgh and Glasgow, with hourly services to most principal English and Welsh cities – and faster journey times to London than current HS2 scheme can offer
  • A 20-minute direct HS link between Edinburgh and Glasgow, also connecting to Edinburgh Airport
  • HSUK services from London and Heathrow extending north from Edinburgh/Edinburgh Airport to northern Scottish cities
  • Overall infrastructure costs of circa £70 billion, including HSUK cross-Border link to Scotland
  • Allied scheme for restoration of abandoned Glenfarg (Inverkeithing-Perth) and Strathmore (Perth-Aberdeen) routes to create an enhanced Scottish intercity network focused upon Edinburgh Airport
  • Intercity service levels maintained or enhanced on all routes.

I asked a very senior Tory last year why Cameron’s government seemed so hellbent on a scheme that defied all logic. He admitted that common sense tells us that there would not be a flow of business traffic to the North of England but in fact the opposite would happen.

Maybe Westminster doesn’t like Scotland very much

If indeed it became slightly easier for Northern businessmen to get to London, that is what they would do – with the result London would overheat even more and all the financial gain would continue to pour into the capital.

As for Scotland, he hadn’t heard any businessmen (or politicians) complaining about the one-hour flight to London City from Glasgow or Edinburgh.

He concluded: “Governments like to be seen to be doing something.”

This is a very big “something” – built on a false premise, fiscally incontinent at a time of austerity and it will do absolutely nothing to benefit the Scottish economy. Maybe Westminster doesn’t like Scotland very much.

*In the video below, Jack talks about two major campaigns being directed by Media House, including the fight against the introduction of HS2.