A new high speed rail link between Glasgow, Birmingham and London - at an estimated cost of #33 billion - is the only long-term answer to traffic congestion, according to a major transportation survey published today.

The Institution of Civil Engineers' annual State of the Nation report urges the Government to start planning now for a completely new track running the length of the country.

Failure to do so would wipe out by 2026 any benefits from existing road and rail improvement projects, the report claims.

Transportation schemes currently planned, including the upgrading of the West Coast Main Line, the refurbishment of New Street Station, traffic management schemes on the M42 and expansion of the Midland Metro network will be seen in 20 years time as a "sticking plaster" if the high-speed rail link is not built, according to the ICE.

The improved West Coast Main Line, where trains can run at 125 mph, will be running at full passenger capacity by 2025.

A new rail link would help unlock some of the biggest problems on the West Midlands' transport network, allowing more flexibility on existing road and rail routes, the report adds.

The new railway could be built close to the existing track, or could follow the line of disused track.

The ICE survey is based on the cost of the new Channel Tunnel rail link to London - at #50 million per kilometre.

An ICE spokesman said: "It is a huge amount of money, but as an economic investment the benefits would outweigh the cost in the long term. Like the construction of the motorways, it could be completed in incremental stages. London to Birmingham could be the first stage."

The survey calls for greater Government funding reflecting the strategic national importance of the West Midlands and a clear commitment to press ahead with the #500 million redevelopment of New Street Station and the extension of the Midland Metro.

ICE chairman Ed Gardiner said: "The West Midlands is the crossroads of the nation and spending on the region's infrastructure needs to be proportionate to its considerable significance. We need to start planning now for the transport needs of the region in 20 years time, and high speed rail is a key part of this.

"Much that is positive has been done in the past year, but other incremental improvements need to be made in the meantime, and the effect of the Government's Transport Innovation Fund will be that more new infrastructure will have to be in place."

In the West Midlands, some 96,000 vehicles a day use the motorway network - the highest in the country - while 120,000 people crowd into New Street Station daily, twice the number it was built to handle. Congestion costs the regional economy #2.8 billion a year.