Following a damning Rail Network review of the two favourite alternatives to controversial high speed rail plans, Ministers have now given the go ahead to plans for a high speed rail link between Birmingham and London.
The existing West Coast Main Line (WCML) is notorious for its overcrowding and is one of the busiest train lines in Britain. It acts as an essential economic ‘vein’ across Britain linking two of its most prosperous cities.
The new plans, however, will cut the journey times between London and Birmingham down to 49 minutes (Euston, London, to Birmingham City Centre Station, Curzon Street) and will only be the first phase of a development which could project further lines north to Manchester and Leeds. Proponents envisage a new, efficient way of travelling between Britain’s business hubs.
The plans have been controversial and critics believe that its cost, at £17bn for the first stage alone and £32bn for the whole project, is excessive in the face of cheaper and equally effective alternatives.
More than 70 protest groups have been created to fight the plans on these grounds, stating that improving the existing line, running longer trains and having fewer first class carriages will achieve the same outcome for a significantly smaller investment. Whilst the current plans, which will run tracks through some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside, will do too much damage to rural Britain.
Just days before the final decision, Network Rail released a report which found that neither of the alternatives touted by protesters would provide enough capacity to meet the predicted passenger demand. It stated that both would result in long delays during work on the infrastructure and is being seen by many as having had a big influence on the final decision.
Network Rail argued that certain costs for the alternatives, like the remodelling of London’s Euston station, had not been taken into account and that the ‘shadow cost’ of the delays, always a difficult intangible to estimate, had been undershot.
A Network Rail spokesman has been reported saying:
“The capacity case for a new high-speed line is clear. In just over a decade the WCML, Britain’s busiest and most economically vital rail artery, will be full with no more space to accommodate the predicted growth in demand.
“Alternative schemes to HS2 have been put forward which would deliver some short-term capacity benefits, but they would come at a heavy price in terms of disruption to passengers and the wider economy.”
Although the decision has been positive for the plans, certain alterations have been made in response to the many criticisms. New measures announced by Transport Minister Justine Greening today (10th January) include a 1.4-mile tunnel near Amersham in Buckinghamshire and a 2.75-mile tunnel in Ruislip in north west London, in addition to various tunnel improvements and extensions, in order to minimise the negative affects on Britain’s countryside.
Of course, there is still a long way to go before the HS2 becomes a reality. MPs must vote the plans through Parliament and, even then, it will be another four years before construction starts. With the construction map having been released (see it here), one can’t help but wonder how long it will really take to get from London Euston to Birmingham Central…