Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 16:22 UK

High-speed rail network Bill 'in due course'

High speed train
A bill for a high speed rail network will not be introduced yet

Plans for a high-speed rail network are among the commitments of the new government, it has been announced.

The government will "enable the construction of a high-speed network", according to the Queen's Speech delivered to Parliament.

No timetable for the work or details on routes were given. The announcement only said the Bill would be introduced in "due course".

The government will also review the economic regulation of airports.

Plans for the high-speed network could include links between UK airports to provide an alternative to domestic flights.

'Not the answer'

The government will also study how to link the network with the existing High Speed One (HS1), between London and the Channel Tunnel.

It says the idea of a national high-speed rail network is part of a programme of measures for a low-carbon economy.

HSR has the potential to alter radically the way that people travel between the UK's main cities
Michael Roberts, chief executive Atoc

Earlier this year, the Labour government announced plans for a high-speed network, with the line expected to bring London-Birmingham journey times down to about 49 minutes, and journeys from London to Manchester taking just 80 minutes.

The Conservatives have also previously supported high-speed rail plans which would see a line from London to Heathrow airport and to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds and, eventually, to Scotland.

The RAC Foundation questioned how effective a high-speed rail network would actually be for reducing congestion and protecting the environment.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "A high-speed rail network serving only a handful of destinations is not the answer and will not help ease local congestion.

There is no timetable and no funding commitment - only a vague reference to HSR in 'due course'
Bob Crowe, RMT union

"If there is money to be spent then it must be used to address capacity problems on the existing road and rail networks."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, questioned the solidity of the plans.

He said: "Once again, the government are talking in only the vaguest terms about HSR and the urgently-needed modernisation of the UK's rail network.

"There is no timetable and no funding commitment - only a vague reference to HSR in 'due course'."

However, the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) welcomed the government's commitment.

Its chief executive, Michael Roberts, said high-speed rail (HSR) was "central to the future success" of the British economy.

"HSR has the potential to alter radically the way that people travel between the UK's main cities," he said.

But he added: "The plans must be affordable at a time of real constraint in the public finances and show how HSR will be paid for while continuing to invest in the existing network."

Third runway scrapped

The coalition government will also reform the regulation of airports to benefit passengers, according to the Queen's Speech.

Having ruled out new runways in the south east of England, any plans will work within the constraints of the existing runway infrastructure.

The new government has already announced that plans for a third runway at London's Heathrow Airport have been scrapped.

It has also said it will refuse any additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted airports.

The Bill on airports will include measures to replace the existing system for setting price caps on what airlines can be charged for using airports.

The current airport price caps are set by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The government says the Bill will focus on better airport facilities for passengers and seek to sharpen incentives on airports to deliver a better deal for them.

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