The government has given the go-ahead for a new high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, although services are not expected to start until 2026, and legal action is expected from opposition to the project.
Announcing the plans, transport secretary Justine Greening said the new network would be built in two phases, with the first seeing the construction of a new 140-mile line between London and Birmingham, scheduled for completion by 2026. The new line will enable trains to travel at up to 250mph, cutting journey times between the two cities to 45 minutes.
A second phase will see lines built from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester by 2033, as well as a spur connecting Heathrow airport to the high-speed network. Greening said a formal consultation on the routes for the second phase will begin in early 2014.
The total cost of the project is set at just under £33 billion, with the government claiming the network will bring economic benefits of between £47 and £59 billion over 60 years.
But legal action is likely to be taken against the plans by environmental groups concerned by the impact of the building of the line through wildlife habitats, and there is considerable opposition from communities which will be affected by the construction of the line.
In an attempt to appease this opposition the government has announced that 22.5 miles of the line between London and Birmingham will run in tunnels, with a total of 79 miles of the 140-mile line running in either tunnels or cuttings.
Plans for HS2 were first introduced under the Labour government, and have been carried through by the Conservation-Lib Dem coalition. High-Speed One (HS1) is the name given to the 67-mile rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel.