TRAINS crawl at less than 55mph from Southampton to most key English towns and cities, ministers have been warned – punishing passengers and businesses.

An MP unveiled a study that revealed a failure to invest in rail travel unless it served to “concentrate economic and administrative power” in London.

He said no wonder people drive instead – when going by train involved dismal average speeds and multiple changes.

The study said the slowest speeds from Southampton, calculated using road miles, were to reach other south coast destinations Brighton (36.8mph) and Plymouth (39.7mph).

He said this compared to a speed of up to 100mph to get to London from almost anywhere in the country.

Other long journeys include trips to Cambridge (43.4mph), Nottingham (44.2mph), Oxford (46.6mph), Swindon (47.3mph) and Sheffield (48.1mph).

Leeds can be reached a bit quicker (52.6mph) – but that requires a soul-destroying three changes of train to get there.

The research was carried out by Ian Swales, a north-east Liberal Democrat MP, but seeks to expose the same problem across the country.

Mr Swales told ministers: “There has often seemed to be an assumption that the only thing people want to do when they get on a train is travel to or from London.

“Research shows that prioritising transport heavily on connections to a capital tends to suck economic activity into that capital.”

The MP said one mind-numbing journey – from Liverpool to the north-east – had left Business Secretary Vince Cable “stunned” when he endured it.

And he said such poor cross-country links were also a problem for business leaders, such as major ports, which include Southampton.

Mr Swales added: “Rail investment is not just about passengers, but about freight. A large, modern port needs good connections to a wide hinterland.”

In reply, rail minister Stephen Hammond said rail passengers were benefiting from “massive investment from this Government”.

He told MPs: “This Government is also investing a huge amount in electrification.

“This major investment links the core centres of population and economic activity in the west, East Midlands and Yorkshire with the south of England.

“It will provide electrification of the lines from Nuneaton and Bedford to Oxford, Reading, Basingstoke and Southampton.

“All this will provide faster, more reliable services on many important strategic routes, and not just routes into London.”