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Trains to link Glasgow and London as fast as planes

12.05.06

Travelling between Glasgow and London by train could soon be done in a time to rival making the journey by plane. The news comes after Virgin announced plans to cut the rail trip to three hours 45 mins.

The train operator told The Scotsman newspaper breaking the psychological four-hour barrier would be crucial in persuading passengers to switch from air to rail. The target would require further upgrading of the west coast main line between Glasgow and Euston, but ministers on both sides of the Border signalled backing for such moves to help curb aviation growth.

Flights between Edinburgh or Glasgow and London take one hour 20 minutes, but adding time for the journey to and from airports, checking in and waiting for baggage can bring the total to nearly four hours. Increasing congestion at airports could lengthen total journey times for fliers, while tighter enforcement of hand-luggage limits may add extra minutes as passengers check in baggage.

Tony Collins, the chief executive of Virgin Trains, said: 'We want to offer like-for-like times, but a much better journey experience than by air, such as space to work, sockets for laptops and no need to check in.'

Rail tickets booked in advance, such a Scotland - London return for as little as £25, are already cheaper than many plane fares, which do not include the extra cost of travel between airports and central London.

The current fastest journeys are four hours 24 minutes, which are due to be cut to four hours 15 minutes in 2008 when the current £7.6 billion upgrade of the line is finally completed. However, reducing that time still further would smash the record for the 401-mile route of three hours 54 mins, which was set by British Rail's ill-fated Advanced Passenger Train in 1984.

Virgin said extra work to remove speed restrictions would be required, enabling its electric Pendolino tilting trains to go up to 135mph rather than 125mph. It is also considering lengthening its Pendolinos from nine carriages to ten, giving them as many seats as a jumbo jet. They could be further extended to 12 if station platforms are lengthened and extra motors added.

GNER's fastest time between Edinburgh and London on the far flatter and straighter east coast main line is four hours eight minutes.

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