A TRAIN company have said that they can dramatically cut down the journey time between Scotland and London without installing a new costly high-speed track.
Virgin Trains claim that a series of improvements to the West Coast Main Line would make the Glasgow to Euston route a mere three and a half hours by 2018.
The company currently holds the franchise to provide intercity services on the route until 2012, and is preparing to bid for the contract again.
The planned improvements will form a vital part of their bid, but industry experts are warning that they may be too good to be true.
High-speed rail line
A blueprint for a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham – with the option to expand to Scotland in the long run – was submitted to the Department of Transport last week.
And a White Paper setting out the government’s plans is due in March, but construction is due to start in 2018.
But Virgin said that more immediate improvements in the journey time can be made.
The line underwent a £9 billion upgrade in 2008, but the tilting Pendolino trains are limited to running at 125mph.
This is partly due to the failure to install in-cab signalling technology which would have allowed them to run at 140mph.
But the new improvements would shave 25 minutes of the current fastest travel time – and the company think that this could fulfil the government’s ambition to shift passengers from air to rail.
Tony Collins, Virgin’s chief executive, said: “Even faster trains between Glasgow and London would stop people from flying for ever.”
And the plans have the approval of politicians; with Glasgow South MP and former rail minister Tom Harris saying they would make the Virgin bid an “extremely attractive” proposal for ministers.
He added: “It could basically wipe out domestic air travel.”
But industry sources are hesitant, warning that the line if used by more than just the intercity services.
One said: “The West Coast Main Line is one of the most heavily trafficked pieces of rail track in Europe.
“You can’t simply make all the local services stand by and wait while Virgin trains whiz by.
“If you’re talking about replacing worn-out signalling it’s one thing but if you’re chiselling through rock faces in order to straighten track alignments then the money adds up very quickly.”
A Network Rail spokesman said: “While we share Virgin’s aspiration to further reduce the London-Glasgow journey time where possible, this ambition must be balanced against the needs of the other passengers and freight operators whose services also use the route.
“Any improvements, especially those which could affect other operators, would have to be supported by a fully-costed business case and demonstrate a clear benefit to the rail industry as a whole.”
The Department of Transport declined to comment.