HS2: High-speed rail link 'being seriously considered'


Shadow transport minister John Woodcock: "The project would bring clear economic benefits"

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Ministers are "considering very seriously" building a controversial new high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham, the BBC understands.

A source said a Network Rail review of the two main alternatives favoured by opponents concluded they could not "generate the capacity" needed.

The government is due to make its final decision on the £17bn HS2 scheme next week.

The 100-mile connection would be built between 2016 and 2026.

It aims to cut the journey time between London and Birmingham to 49 minutes. It would mark the first phase of HS2, with extensions further north later.

A Y-shaped section taking branches to Manchester, Leeds and possibly further north could be finished by 2033.

The entire cost of the project is expected to be £32bn.

'Fewer benefits'

A government source told the BBC: "Groups opposed to high speed rail claim there are alternative packages of railway improvements that can bring similar benefits without making any sacrifices.

Martin Tett from the 51m alliance: "It's a very bad use of £32bn of government money"

"This independent Network Rail report shows that the main alternatives cited by opponents cannot in fact generate the capacity and connectivity boost that a new high-speed rail line could deliver.

"This is why the government is in the process of considering very seriously the question of building such a line."

The project - introduced by Labour and continued by the coalition government - has proved highly controversial.

Opponents say the planned route crosses an area of outstanding natural beauty and it will damage the environment. It also passes through Conservative heartlands and some Tory MPs have strongly objected to the proposal.

Critics have argued that overcrowding can be eased by improving the existing line, running longer trains and having fewer first-class carriages.


The decision to build a brand new, high-speed rail line, straight through some of Britain's most picturesque countryside, has always been controversial.

More than 70 protest groups have been set up to oppose it, saying it's a waste of money, and you can solve the capacity problem by spending the cash on the lines we already have.

The debate's been bitter at times, with claims of Nimbyism, even a Christmas single, all in a bid to influence the final decision.

That decision could be as early as Tuesday, which is why Network Rail has brought out this detailed review, dismissing the opposition's claims that beefing up our existing West Coast Main Line, running longer trains and having fewer first class carriages would sort the long-term problem.

It all points towards a green light for the scheme, but even after the government's decision there's still a long way to go. MPs need to vote it through Parliament, and they won't actually begin building it for another four years.

This latest review by Network Rail looked at two alternative schemes which suggest a series of improvements to the existing West Coast Main Line (WCML).

It found that neither would provide enough capacity to meet the predicted passenger demand and both would result in long delays during work on the infrastructure.

The report also found that while cost estimates for the two alternatives were "realistic", other factors such as remodelling work at London's Euston station had not been taken into account and the cost of disruption had been underestimated.

It concluded they would "deliver considerably fewer benefits than a new line".

A Network Rail spokesman said: "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."

Lucy James, from the Campaign for High Speed Rail, said: "This report is just the latest piece of evidence to show that HS2 is the only game in town when it comes to solving the capacity crisis on Britain's railways."

Penny Gaines, from the Stop HS2 campaign, said it was difficult to understand how Network Rail could claim that the alternative plans would cause too much disruption.

"A low-risk series of incremental improvements will bring more benefits to more people more quickly for less money," she said.

Under the current proposal, London's Euston station would need to be rebuilt and that would take seven or eight years, she added.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    Cutting 80 minutes to 50 minutes achieves nothing, for unless you live at Euston and the meeting is at B'ham station, you take 30 minutes to get to Euston, and 30 minutes to get from B'ham station to your meeting, so your are changing 140 minutes to 110 minutes, which is insignificant. High speed rail is only worthwhile for journeys over 500m km, or 300 mi.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    I agree the line should pass through other major cities. In Japan the Bullet trains come in 4 speeds with equivently the fastest stopping only at Birmingham, but semi-fast trains having more stops but still being high speed. Prices are then graduated also, though standard class rail travel in the UK looks very cheap by comparison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    Many people on here seem to be missing the point. The whole point of this is to increase the number of trains which can run on the WCML so the time saving is just an added bonus. It would also most likely reduce fares on the WCML whilst taking freight off the roads, all things that any other proposal won't do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    Re-instate the great central and have many more local stations to bring the benefits to more people and put more freight on it.
    HS2 is a political vanity project anda blindlingly obvious white elephant . You have to get on at Birmingham to get off in London. It doesn't even allow you to sail on through to the continent without changing trains. How shoddily thought through is that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    Hang on - building this line might affect house prices in Tory constituencies? And there's protests, you say? Wow!

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    I cant help but think what a £32bn investment would do if spent on the other 99% of the countries railway.

    We could all have comfortable chairs for a start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    This is the first line that will make sense to modern day Britain. It will free up carriage space, make travel quicker (in times when were told to look for work further from home) and a hub system is the most efficient way of linking places, so I'm for the expansion of this scheme too.

    Don't understand the countryside argument. We'd eventually have to build roads if the line isn't built.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    spending all that money , when the goverment cant keep the roads in good working order,its like driving in romania.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    Why would anyone want to spend £17 billion pounds just so they can get the Birmingham quicker. Don't we have an underfunded healthcare system, as well as fuel and child poverty?

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    I foresee building contracts flying out to European countries and the completion deadline being missed by ten years from the 2033 estimate.
    I am happy to travel at over 500mph in the air in the knowledge that flying thousands of feet in the air has limited dangers.
    On an unguarded railway line at 250mph in a cigar tube, I would feel considerably less safe from any crazy human terrorist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    For all those that think the height of technology is a shiny new train let me remind you that the basis form of travel is over 200 years old.
    We must avoid the need to make so many journeys, not add faster ways of making the same journeys. Invest in a national broadband superhighway that reaches EVERYONE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.


    "I think this is a fantastic idea and so glad it has finally got the go ahead. The time and number of changes required to get between the Capital and second largest city has always been ridiculous."

    What are you on about - there are dozens of LondonBirmingham no change trains a day, about 1 hour run time. What planet are you on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    Fifty years ago, wasn't it a Tory Government that closed many railways on the grounds that better roads could be built on railway tracks??

    And didn't one of the first that they closed run from a N W London terminus (Marylebone) to South Yorkshire. Wasn't it called "The Great Central Railway" and built to carry through trains to/from the Continent when any Channel Tunnel was eventually built?

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    I would love to use the train - or any form of public transport - to commute to and from work. Unfortunately, the cost of using public transport is greater than the cost of driving and, until that changes, why bother trying to get the few who can afford the extortionate price of tickets to their destinations faster? It would be more practical to make travel cheaper to encourage more to use it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    "Lucy James, from the Campaign for High Speed Rail" aka Lucy James from Westbourne Communications, the lobbying company paid to promote HS2. HS2 will benefit a minority of rich businessmen, and will cost every taxpayer over £1,000. It is the wrong priority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    Could North Devon have some investment please, our trains are useless ( when there is any ) the roads are worse still making getting to London farcical...We don't even have cable here...If money is always to be spent centrally then cut our tax's...

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    Save 1/2 an hour when there is so much more time wasted each day by most businesses? Supported by the rail unions; supported by business and by ecomomists and justified by Network Rail. Surely even Coalition ministers might just twig that does not smell of independence but stinks of self interest

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    bobeastoe, I suggest you look at an atlas. London - Leeds/Manchester is 180 odd miles, Birmingham 100 or so, Newcastle 260. Paris - Lyon is 264 miles, Le Mans 125 miles. Distances are very comparable to France and Germany and Britain is far less crowded than Japan. I'm afraid that when you look at the facts about high speed rail already built in other countries your arguments simply don't wash!

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    HS2 is way too short to have any time benefit. London to Birmingham is currently possible in 70 minutes by virgin rail using trains which are capable of 140 mph, but limited to 125mph because of lack of investment in signalling.
    The newest french HS route of 190 miles was built for 4 billion euros and only took 3 years. £14billion and 14 years for half the distance in the uk ????

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    @ 310. Domasmak
    Network Rail are spending £5bn on the Great Western Moderisation project, due to be complete for 2016. New trains will also run between London, Swansea, Bristol, Plymouth, Exeter and Penzance.


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