02 April 2009

HS2 to go beyond Birmingham

Photo captions amended after initial publication.

The company the government has set-up to make environmental, social and economic assessments into the prospect of the UK's second high-speed line (HS2), has been tasked to consider the line extending beyond Birmingham into West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, the North East and Scotland.

Thalys operate high-speed, 186mph service in northern Europe. One of their main routes is between Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris.

Transport Minister Andrew Adonis has written to High Speed Two Limited to express his requirement that the HS2 concept should not simply be a new London-West Midlands line, possibly via Heathrow Airport. Cross-party support for HS2 north of Brum is expected by all MPs in whose constituencies the proposed line could pass and the financial, social and environment benefits such a line could bring.

High Speed Two Limited has been given the whole of 2009 to make exploratory investigations into the possibility of HS2 and is expected to report to the DfT by December with findings detailed enough to illicit "soundly-based" public consultation throughout 2010.

TGVs (train à grande vitesse) are France's contribution to high-speed train services in northern Europe; the Germans have ICE trains (Inter-City Express).

What is clear thus far is that HS2 will almost certainly have a London base with one in the West Midlands and possibly one parkway-style station in between. With Heathrow Airport's third runway being recently given the go-ahead, despite strong local opposition, the chance to revitalise the airport's transport network is also being looked at and is being considered for inclusion in the whole HS2 package.

We understand that the new line will probably house four tracks and be capable of carrying freight as well as 186mph passenger trains.

The UK's first high-speed line (HS1) links London with Paris and Brussels via the Channel Tunnel and currently is operated exclusively by Eurostar.

The Conservatives have, most unusually, been leading the way in train travel potential with a pledge, should they be elected next year, to build HS2 between Leeds/Manchester-Birmingham-London-Europe via the Channel Tunnel. They say the cost to build the brand-new line has been calculated and from where within their overall budget has been identified. They would try and pass a bill to start on building the new line in 2010. (GL)