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UK government gives HS2 rail network the go-ahead

The UK government has given HS2 the go-ahead after concluding it can deliver a sufficient rate of financial return and mitigate impacts on local communities and the environment.

High Speed 2 (HS2), Britain’s second national high-speed rail network, is expected to increase capacity and cut journey times from 2026 when phase one is complete.

Justine Greening, transport secretary, said: ‘A new high-speed rail network will provide Britain with the additional train seats, connections and speed to stay ahead of the congestion challenge and help create jobs, growth and prosperity for the entire country.’

When built, HS2 will be a Y-shaped rail network, with stations in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and the East Midlands linked by high-speed trains conveying up to 26,000 people each hour at speeds of up to 250mph.

High-speed trains will also connect with the existing West Coast and East Coast main lines to serve passengers beyond the HS2 network in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Durham, York, Darlington, Liverpool, Preston, Wigan and Lancaster.

It will be built in two phases. The first will see the construction of a new 140-mile line between London and Birmingham by 2026. It will also include a connection to Europe via the Channel Tunnel and eventually a direct link to Heathrow Airport.

According to the Department for Transport (DfT), journey times will be significantly reduced, with the journey from Birmingham to London being cut from one hour eight minutes to only 45 minutes, four minutes less than the fastest 49-minute service featured in the consultation.

The second phase will see lines built from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester by 2033. A formal consultation on second-phase routes will begin in early 2014 with a final route chosen by the end of 2014.

Rail ’motorway’

The DfT said that HS2 will effectively act as a rail ’motorway’ network offering greater capacity and speed while not restricting train services to stations on the HS2 network.

The government estimates the cost of the complete Y-shaped network at £32bn and expects to generate benefits of £47bn and fare revenues of up to £34bn over a 60-year period.

It believes that a high-speed line will deliver £6.2bn more of economic benefits than a line running at conventional speed — and around £3.5bn more revenues — at a cost of only £3bn more than building a conventional speed equivalent.

Furthermore, it claims that the benefit-cost ratio (including wider economic benefits) for HS2 is £1.80–£2.50 benefits for every £1 spend on the project, a lower benefit-cost ratio than originally suggested.

Paul Plummer, Network Rail group strategy director, said: ‘The capacity case for a new high-speed line is clear. In just over a decade, Britain’s busiest and most economically vital rail artery will be full with no more space to accommodate the predicted growth in demand.’

Route alterations

A package of alterations on the original route was unveiled by the transport secretary to help ensure the lowest possible impacts on local communities and the environment.

‘I took more time to make this decision in order to find additional mitigation, which now means more than half the entire 140-mile line will be out of sight in tunnels or cuttings,’ said Greening.

Around 22.5 miles of the route will be completely enclosed in tunnel or green tunnel — compared to 14.5 miles for the consultation route; and around 56.5 miles will be in cutting, which is expected to significantly reduce the visual and noise impact of the line. Similarly, around 40 miles will be on viaduct or embankment.

Commenting on the decision to tunnel, Steve Hayter, chair of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said: ‘Government’s willingness to explore different engineering options to minimise the impact on those communities affected must be welcomed.

‘Tunnelling on this scale is a proven, effective engineering solution with many advantages,’ he added.

Similarly, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) welcomed the government’s decision to invest in rail rather than seeking to promote new roads or air travel.

Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive, said: ‘It appears that ministers really have engaged with the consultation responses. So we welcome the changes that have been announced, notably the further tunnelling in the Chilterns and alterations to the route to avoid important heritage sites.’

The line is expected to take an estimated nine million journeys off the road network and cut up to four-and-a-half million air journeys each year.

The HS2 trains will be up to 400m long with 1,100 seats, travelling at speeds of up to 250mph. Double-decker trains could be introduced to run on the HS2 network and would be compatible with HS1 and the Channel Tunnel.

Do the revised plans for HS2, including links to Leeds and Manchester and a number of tunnels along the route, represent good value for money? Click here to take part in The Engineer’s poll.

Readers' comments (4)

  • I cannot understand the reasoning behind the development of a completely new railway transport solution to save 20 mins journey time.
    I believe the money would be much better spent replacing Heathrow with a new airport in the Thames Estuary.
    Is rail transport really the solution for the 21st century?
    Is a new rail line really a green solution?
    How come Ryanair and Easyjet can make profits at point to point fares that rail operators can only dream about?
    Is air travel less 'green' than rail if one includes all the add ons in construction, maintenance and operations?
    The future is personal guided transport replacing all existing forms of public and private transport providing people with what they want - a timely point to point travel solution. The technology is almost there and will definitely be there by 2026. The danger is all the patents will be owned by corporations rather than the public.
    The government should be taking a lead in developing the next public transport solution and leading the world in urban and interurban transport for the individual.

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  • $49.6 B for 140 miles is $353,000,000 per mile. Are you crazy?

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  • Possibly but check your math, 140miles is only the first section, there are three further sections to build and its the total cost for all sections thats referred to. Bear in mind the railway is running trains at 225mph through 4 of the largest cities in the UK and its largest airport, and the cost per mile begins to look a little more understandable.
    I have my own personal guided transport in several forms already, ones a car and the others a motorbike. Both can take me wherever i want in the UK now considerably quicker than any form of public transport and no further infrastructure investment or technology is required.

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  • This is part of european integration, including power. How much is the EU paying towards this? It will benefit German freight (travelling at night) and passenger trains more than UK. Is UK ready to ship freight to Europe? This includes cars, trucks, and many other heavy goods capable of passing through the tunnel.

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