Professor Andrew McNaughton giving the Sir Henry Royce memorial lecture at the Royal Institution tonight, 25 September 2014

The next big project to make a rail future for Britain could be a rail freight tunnel under the North Sea from eastern England to the Netherlands.

The controversial idea was mooted tonight (25 September 2014) by Professor Andrew McNaughton, chief engineer of High Speed Two.

He challenged British engineers to come up with something such as an immersed tube tunnel which would allow the Birmingham region to be linked to the Netherlands where a new freight railway, the Betuweroute, opened in 2007 from Rotterdam into Germany.

The new British rail freight link could transform the “heart of the country”, embracing Birmingham and the West Midlands, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby.

With high speed rail, these cities could become a single mega city, linked together as London is linked by the London Underground.

England could have two world metropolises. Economic prosperity could be brought to the Midlands and the North to counter-balance London and the South East.

Professor McNaughton told the Institute of Engineering and Technology in London, that 93% of freight currently goes by road, but long-haul freight should be going by rail. One freight train an hour is worth 300,000 lorry trips a year.

It is possible to replace three million lorry journeys a year by a single railway, dedicated to freight, using expensive energy more efficiently.

A properly designed railway has more than twice the capacity of a motorway while using half the space, which is important because Britain is the most densely populated country in western Europe.

In the 20th century, it was fashionable to rip up railways to make way for roads. Now it is sensible and feasible to take over the fast lane of an existing motorway for rail. The Euro freight link could use one carriageway of the A14 dual carriageway road from the Midlands to the east coast ports.

The complete lecture can be seen on IET,tv News at IET