* UK announces 535 km proposed route from London to north
* High speed railway would open in stages from 2026
(Adds details from government briefing)
By Matt Falloon
LONDON, March 11 (Reuters) - A 400 km per hour British railway will cost 30 billion pounds ($45 billion) to build over more than a decade from 2017, the government said on Thursday, outlining plans to finally get Britain up to speed with Europe.
Britain has only about 110 km of high-speed rail linking London via the Channel Tunnel to mainland Europe, where France, Germany, Spain and Italy all have much bigger, fast networks.
While Japan was the first country to dabble in high-speed railways in the 1960s, both Italy and France had quick trains running by the early 1980s.
“Over the next 20 to 30 years, the UK will require a step-change in transport capacity and connectivity, both to promote and respond to long-term economic growth,” transport minister Andrew Adonis told parliament.
“High speed rail would be by far the most effective way to achieve this step-change.”
The modernisation, which could accommodate double-decker trains for the first time in Britain, is seen as the greenest and most effective way to speed up travel and to provide the increase in capacity needed to help Britain’s economy prosper.
The proposed 535 km Y-shaped route, linking London to Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds and opening in phases from 2026, will not be confirmed until after public consultations.
The public will have their say on the first stage of the route, linking central London to Britain’s second biggest city Birmingham, later this year, Adonis said.
The plans have come under fire from some residents along the proposed railway, who fear its construction will destroy areas of natural beauty in central England and disrupt their lives.
The government, which hopes to secure significant private investment to help with the costs of the project, estimates 440 homes will need to be demolished to make way for the link.
The majority of those would be around London’s Euston station, which will need to be rebuilt.
The government will investigate whether to add a tunnelled extension to Europe’s busiest airport, London Heathrow, as desired by the opposition Conservatives and Heathrow’s operator BAA which is majority owned by Spain’s Grupo Ferrovial FER1.MC.
Faster links to Scotland and other northern English cities would be possible by allowing high-speed trains to run on existing tracks beyond the proposed new lines, Adonis said.
Journey times from London to Birmingham would be cut to about 50 minutes from 1-1/2 hours.
Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester would be brought within 80 minutes of the capital, according to Department for Transport figures. Journeys to those cities from London currently take more than two hours.
Planning for links to Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds will be finished by mid-2011 to be presented to the public in 2012.
The opposition Conservatives, who could end 13 years of Labour rule at an election expected on May 6, have pledged to extend the route to Heathrow, guarantee links to northern cities beyond Birmingham and start construction in 2015.
“In leaving out Heathrow and setting out plans that give no firm guarantees north of the Midlands (Birmingham), Labour’s plans are flawed ... by lack of ambition,” Conservative transport spokeswoman Theresa Villiers said. (Editing by Dan Lalor and David Holmes) ($1 = 0.6702 pound)