Last week, Network Rail proposed a high speed rail line linking several major UK cities together costing £35 billion. If it goes ahead, the Edinburgh-London journey time would only be 2 hours and 9 minutes! This week, we want to discuss whether the proposed plans will have a significant impact on startups.
Thomas: I can’t wait to see it actually happen. Coming from France, I am of course a supporter of high speed rails links, as I’ve seen them expand across the Channel. The Paris to Lyon link is one of the most profitable routes for the SNCF, the company running trains in France. The route is mostly used by commuters, who travel between the two cities in two hours. The Paris to London Eurostar link has also become very popular and profitable. Those travelling on a regular basis between Edinburgh and London know the route is over-popular. Why the hell are there not more services Friday evenings and Monday mornings? A 2 hours route would mean those who commute weekly could start commuting daily, which would mean a substancial increase in traffic, and therefore in revenues. It would mean a lot more tourists could make a short visit Scotland without having to travel all the way to an airport with all the implications this has. It would mean a reduction in the amount of flights, and certainly environmental advantages. It would also make space on the current East and West rail lines for more freight, which currently travels mostly on lorries between the North and the South.
Kate: I’m with Thomas on this one. Getting to London in 2 hours would mean that startups can be feasibly based in Scotland (our beloved Edinburgh) and still be able to be connected to the rest of the startup community – the biggest of which is obviously in London. We saw the impact of the 15min Edinburgh-Glasgow train, and if the new rail link can run with as good efficiency and at a cost effective manner (which is obviously really important) then I think it would make geography much less of an issue.
Bela: An impact to start-ups? In the short-term, there won’t really be one. Unless the start-up is selected as a supplier to the project – in which case, good times!
I love the idea of this project and hope it goes ahead but for all sorts of reasons that are connected to personal travel habits and time management or the stimulation of economic activity in certain areas and so on. I agree with Thomas; I’m sure it’ll be a profitable project. But I think the benefit to start-ups will be small…you can already fly between Edin and London for about 2 hours, and cheaply if you book in advance. So the opportunity to connect to customers and start-up communities there already exists.
Mark: I generally find the total turn around time for short haul flights from Edinburgh to London is almost as long as a train currently takes. Getting from the centre of one city to the other is far simpler by train as there are stations right there, however airports take the best part of an hour to commute to/from, and there’s most of another hour taken up by checking in and going through security (more if you want a good seat on a budget airline). With the train you just show up, board, then get off when its done. I think the key issue will be pricing, if it’s possible to get cheap tickets in advance for little more than a flight, then I’d say the sheer convenience of the train will win many customers over.
Jess: Cost of the project aside for the moment, I think the speedier train would be fabulous for the Scottish startup community in terms of funding and PR. London investors are often reluctant to look this far away, thinking we couldn’t possibly have better potential than the City itself, which is really a shame for Scottish-based companies that are trying to raise VC or Angel funding. On the same note, some tech journalists are still in denial that Scotland is a hot place for innovation, instead remaining in the English bubble. I think that a pleasant, hassle-free 2 hour 9 minute journey between London and Edinburgh would be a significant step at breaking down these barriers and misconceptions. It would become much more feasible – and enjoyable – for an investor or journalist to visit Scotland for a business day-trip instead of staying south of the border. I hope the train helps open people’s eyes, wallets, and pens to the startup activity up North – the attention would be well deserved.