The first high speed rail link in the United Kingdom was opened in 2007 to connect the Channel Tunnel with the capital. After the success of high speed railways in France and Germany, the British government put forward a proposal for a second high speed link between London and Birmingham. In 2009 the project was launched based on studies that freight traffic would increase by forty percent, and a fifty percent increase in passenger numbers. This second high speed link, called the HS2, has now been approved by the government after three years of impact studies and public consultations. The opening date for the first stage of the HS2 is planned for 2026.
The first phase of the HS2 is to build a double track that conforms the to European standards for high-speed train travel. The maximum speed possible on the European structure gauge is 250 mph, although trains on the new HS2 will be initially limited to 225 mph. The HS2 network will also be used for freight movements, but restricted to operate during the night as the speed of freight trains is significantly lower than the passenger trains that will run.
The HS2 should double the passenger capacity from Birmingham to London and will reduce the journey time from to just 49 minutes. The first phase will also include a connection to the existing WCML (West Coast Main line) so that services can continue to the North West and Scotland when the HS2 opens.
The official cost of the HS2 phase one project is estimated to be £17 billion to £20 billion ($26.5 billion to $31.1 billion). However, other unofficial sources expect the first phase of the HS2 to cost £33 billion ($50.53 billion). The official cost does include cross London link to the HS1 high speed link to the Channel Tunnel, and the procurement of the rolling stock required. Although the project has been given the green light, the actual construction will not commence until 2017, with the peak construction being between 2019 and 2020.
The second phase of the HS2, although not yet approved, is to extend the network from Birmingham with two legs; one to Leeds and another to Manchester. The second phase, if approved, is expected to be completed in 2033, seven years after the first phase.
Benefits of the HS2
Supporters of the HS2 have determined that there are a number of benefits to building the HS2. Firstly, the new HS2 will reduce the journey time of rail services between London and Birmingham. Currently the travel time between the two cities is one hour and twelve minutes and the HS2 will reduce that to around 50 minutes.
The second benefit is that the HS2 will be a new rail network and offer the consumer and freight operator a much improved network with high levels of reliability. The current network is older and requires significant maintenance which can lead to slower travel times and delayed departures.
The HS2 is expected to reduce overcrowding and improve the experience for the rail commuter. Perhaps less clear is the impact to the non-rail user. Supporters of the HS2 believe that the HS2 will attract more users to the network which will reduce the number of vehicles on the motorways between London and Birmingham.
Opponents of the HS2
The HS2 project has been controversial and despite government approval there is a significant opposition to the rail network. In 2006 the Labour Government in the UK commissioned a study to look at transport options, called the Eddington Transport Study, which determined that the transport network in the UK was adequate and did not require new infrastructure such as high-speed railways or cross country motorways. Despite that report the HS2 has been approved and some of the reasons behind the approval are being questioned.
Opposition groups worry that the estimates of future rail needs have been overestimated and that the HS2 will never recoup the cost of construction. The studies assumed that air travel would increase but since then air travel has decreased and unlikely to grow at the rate expected to require a high speed network. The cost of the HS2 has been questioned as at £160 ($249) million per mile the HS2 will be the most expensive railway in the world.
One concern that has been put forward by HS2 detractors is that the new network is far from green. The United Kingdom has committed to reducing carbon emissions and the construction and use of the HS2 could increase emissions. The studies suggest that the HS2 will encourage more people to travel by train, which requires more journeys and increased emissions. A government white paper has suggested that trains that operate at 225 mph, rather than the 120 mph which current operate, will require ninety percent more energy. To offset this increase the rail system would have to operate rolling stock with alternative energy.