RAIL journeys from the North-East to Scotland could be cut to less than one hour amid wider plans to “strengthen and deepen important bonds” between the border neighbours, it was today revealed.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed studies will take place to drive improvements in services between Newcastle and Edinburgh.

She added the probe will form part of a longer-term commitment to fortify connections between the North-East and Scotland, citing the Port of Tyne and Newcastle Airport as key facets in the future of that relationship.

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According to the Scottish Government’s rail plans, investigations will be carried out into the feasibility and cost of improving the east coast route south of Dunbar towards Newcastle, with further focus on potential improvements to the A1 and A68 road links.

Addressing hundreds of business leaders at a North East England Chamber of Commerce event, in Gateshead, Ms Sturgeon said she was determined to reinforce links between the northern neighbours, highlighting companies’ shared prowess across the subsea and biotechology sectors.

She said: “These connections enhance and enrich the lives of people across Scotland and the North-East, and we want to work with you to strengthen and deepen those important bonds.

“These links are providing vital connections for families, visitors, businesses and freight.

“Access to the Port of Tyne is crucial to Scotland’s exports to Europe and the wider world and, increasingly, Scottish families come to Newcastle Airport to use it as a gateway to sunnier climes.

“These connections are the foundation and bedrock of encouraging closer co-operation.

“It is expected the rail studies will confirm we will be able to reduce the journey time between Edinburgh and Newcastle down to one hour.

“We are sending a very clear signal of seriousness and intent; we should try and make benefits go from north to south, rather than having to wait for them to come from the south.”

Ms Sturgeon said it was important the North-East and Scotland work together, not only because of their geography but because of similar past experiences.

“Scotland and the North-East were both disproportionately affected by de-industrialisation in the 1970s and 1980s, but both have great strength and even greater potential, in areas like advanced manufacturing,” she said.

“The prosperity of the north of England will always matter deeply to Scotland and the prosperity of Scotland will always matter deeply to the north.

“My hope and expectation is that by working more closely together, we can deliver real, practical, tangible benefits for Scotland and the North-East.”

Ms Sturgeon also called on Theresa May’s Government to up its game over Brexit, saying she would prefer the country to remain part of the single market and customs union.

She added: “We think the current approach has the potential, which may quickly turn into the reality, of doing real damage to businesses and others right across the UK.

“We need as much clarity as possible as quickly as possible.

“Otherwise, as we go into next year, I would fear that we would start seeing companies making decisions that have negative effects on the North-East economy.”