Work can now begin on the High Speed 2 rail line, after MPs and Lords approved the legislation needed to make it happen.
After more than three years of Parliamentary debate and 2,586 petitions against it, the Bill authorising construction of Phase One of the line – connecting London to the West Midlands – passed its final hurdle last week and received Royal Assent on Thursday 23 February. It is now the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Act 2017.
It was back in 2009 that the Labour Government first proposed the line and established HS2 Ltd to bring it about. The Coalition Government that took over in 2010 conducted a review of the plans, as well as a public consultation, but ultimately decided to press ahead with them.
Because of the huge cost of the project, estimated at £55.7 billion in 2015 prices, the Government decided to split construction into two phases. Phase One – from London to Birmingham and Lichfield – can now begin construction and is scheduled to be completed by 2026.
Phase Two will take the line further north, to Manchester and Leeds. This will be split further into two parts. Phase 2a, from Lichfield to Crewe, is due to be completed by 2027. Phase 2b, extending the line from Crewe to Manchester and from Birmingham to Leeds, should then be finished in 2033. Both sub-phases will need their own Bills to pass through Parliament first, though.
The project has, naturally, attracted a lot of criticism – not only because of the amount of money it’ll cost, but also because of concerns about the effects on the areas through which the line will run. The Government has even faced legal challenges about the environmental impact. Nevertheless, it still has the support of all three major political parties.
They are focused on the benefits HS2 will bring. Three times as many people will be able to travel by train from London to Birmingham at rush hour, with capacity increasing from 11,300 to 34,900. Those journeys will be quicker, too: it should only take 49 minutes to get from London to Birmingham, instead of the 1 hour 21 minutes it takes at the moment. And the Government is also keen to emphasise the jobs HS2 will create. 25,000 people will be employed during construction, according to the Department for Transport.
In fact, so confident is the Government that HS2 will be a success that it is already planning HS3. In his final Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne announced that ‘we are giving the green light to High Speed 3 between Manchester and Leeds’. That line will connect the two northern ends of HS2, and should cut journey times between the two cities from 50 minutes to 30.
Once they’re complete, these high-speed rail links will have a big effect on the way we travel between the UK’s largest cities. It won’t just be quicker for those taking the train, but hopefully quicker for those of us who drive, too. Greater rail capacity should mean less traffic on the motorway – and smoother journeys for us all.