UK government gives HS2 rail network the go-ahead

3 min read

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.

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