A new high-speed rail (HSR) line will cost taxpayers billions of pounds, but benefit only a relatively small group of wealthy travellers, the RAC Foundation said.

Developing HSR from London to Birmingham and beyond would starve other much-needed transport schemes of cash, added the foundation’s director Professor Stephen Glaister.

He went on: “Railways are generally used by the rich and a high-speed line between London and Scotland is unlikely to be any exception.”

Prof Glaister was speaking at a transport conference in London, staged as the Government continues its considerations of a report by a Whitehall-appointed body on options for a London-Birmingham HSR line, with possible extensions to Scotland as well.

The Government is expected to produce a White Paper detailing its HSR plans next month.

Prof Glaister said: “As a proportion of their disposable income, the wealthy spend most on train travel. But when it comes to car-owning households - rich or poor - they all shell out roughly the same in percentage terms.

“By diverting funding - for both capital and maintenance projects - away from the road network, there is the very real risk that the less well-off will be hardest hit, as they are the ones who are least likely to travel by train and so will have to put up with increasing congestion and pothole-strewn highways.”

He went on: “For most of the people, most of the time, the car is public transport, and Government policy and spending needs to reflect this.

“It is absolutely correct that long-term thinking needs to be at the heart of transport planning to create future travel capacity; however this has to be based on the reality of people’s lives.

“When over 90% of all passenger travel takes place on the roads it seems wrong that so much political attention is being focused on transport services for the elite, especially at a time when funds are so desperately needed to repair the roads damaged by the awful winter weather.”