LONDON Jan 28 Britain's government pressed
ahead on Monday with a planned high-speed rail link that is
opposed by many of its own lawmakers, striving to show it is
committed to projects that will eventually revitalise a moribund
The route for the second phase of the $50 billion HS2 rail
project will run between Birmingham in central England and Leeds
in the north, slashing journey times to London by almost a half,
the Department for Transport (DfT) said.
A year ago the rail plan was threatened by a backlash from
rural communities and lawmakers within David Cameron's own
Conservative Party, who argue the scheme's economic benefits
will be limited.
But the government launched the next stage of the scheme on
Monday, saying it would create tens of thousands of jobs, bring
growth to regions outside London as well as adding capacity to
an already-stretched rail network.
"It's not just about cutting journey times. It's also about
the new stations, the prosperity that's going to come, the jobs
that are going to be created around this infrastructure,"
Finance Minister George Osborne told BBC TV.
"This is going to help out country over the next 15, 20
years. If we don't take the decision now it will be left to
someone else in 20 years times to take those tough decisions to
invest in our future."
Figures released last week showed the economy shrank at the
end of 2012, pushing it close to a "triple-dip" recession and
raising questions about the Conservative-led coalition's
austerity programme which critics say is strangling growth.
Just before the release of the numbers, the leader of the
ruling coalition's junior partner, the Liberal Democrats, said
that major infrastructure investment was one area where the
government may have cut spending too deeply.
The DfT said the HS2 route, which will not be in operation
for 20 years, will run northwards from Birmingham, stopping at
Manchester, Manchester airport, Toton in the East Midlands as
well as Sheffield and Leeds in the northern county of Yorkshire.
The ministry also put plans for a link between the line and
London's Heathrow airport on hold until the completion of a
review into the future of Britain's airports, hinting that
senior government figures do not see Ferrovial's
Heathrow as the best location for a future London hub.
The ministry said HS2 would create around 100,000 jobs, but
the project is likely to anger rural communities through which
the line will run, and their parliamentary representatives.
Cameron's Conservatives trail the main opposition Labour
Party by around 10 points ahead of elections due in May 2015,
and he also faces a challenge on the right from the UK
Independence Party in the party's southern England heartlands.
"In looking at this route one knows that you are going to
upset a number of people because the route will go through their
area and that will be annoying for them and you'll get
opposition to it," Britain's Transport Secretary Patrick
McLoughlin told BBC Radio.
"But overall, one has got to look at the long term chances
for the United Kingdom. This is the first railway to be built
north of London for a 120 years."
The government said a final route for phase two would be
chosen by the end of 2014. Trains running on HS2 will be able to
reach speeds of up to 250 miles per hour, the DfT said.
Phase one of the project will link London and Birmingham. It
will reduce journey times between Birmingham and London to 49
minutes from the current one hour and 24 minutes, according to
the DfT. The Birmingham to Leeds journey will be cut to 57
minutes from two hours.
Construction of the London-West Midlands route is due to
start in 2017 with work on the extension likely to kick off by
2025 to enable the line to be operational by 2033.
British transport union the RMT said the project was long
overdue, saying Britain was "miles behind the rest of Europe
when it comes to High Speed and electrification".
Britain has long toiled with charges that it lags behind
other European networks like France's high-speed TGV system, and
developing nations like China, which earlier this month started
using the world's longest high-speed railway line.