High Speed 2 (HS2)

What is High Speed 2?

In January 2012, the Government announced its intention to go ahead with the development of a new national high speed rail network known as High Speed 2 or HS2.

Described as "the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways", the HS2 Y network, (so-called because it is shaped like the letter Y), is expected to provide a huge increase in rail capacity, greatly enhanced rail connections throughout the UK and substantial reductions in journey times.

High speed links will be introduced between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester with intermediate stations in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.

There will be two types of trains running on HS2 lines: high speed only trains which run only on high speed track and high speed trains designed to run on high speed track and also on the existing rail network.

The track will be designed to cope with high speed trains running at initial speeds of up to 225 mph, with the potential to increase to 250 mph; (the fastest trains on the current network operate at 125 mph.). The new trains will be more spacious than the present ones and HS2 will be able to accommodate the wider and taller trains used elsewhere in Europe.

The HS2 Y network will be delivered in two phases:

Phase 1, expected to open in 2026, will link London to the West Midlands via dedicated high speed services.  Trains will also be able to move on to the existing network, reducing to conventional speeds, to serve the North West and Scotland directly.  There will be a direct link to the Continent via the High Speed 1 line to the Channel Tunnel. Phase 1 also includes four high speed rail stations: - central London (Euston); West London (Old Oak Common); Birmingham Airport (Birmingham Interchange); and central Birmingham (Curzon Street).

Phase 2, expected to open 2032-33, will extend high speed services to Manchester and Leeds and provide direct high speed services to a new Heathrow Airport station. High speed trains will also continue on the existing network at conventional speeds to serve directly the North East, North West and Scotland. Phase 2 will add further stations in Manchester, the East Midlands, South Yorkshire, Leeds, and Heathrow.


In the decade between 1997 and 2007, rail usage in the UK saw a dramatic increase, both by passengers and by freight, putting considerable strain on the railway system.

The 2007 White Paper 'Delivering a Sustainable Railway' concluded that although the current rail network could cope with that kind of sustained growth for at least two decades, any future planning for increased rail capacity should focus on new line options.

Several significant improvements had been made, or were in the process of being made, to the existing network including the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (High Speed 1) opened in 2007, the West Coast Main Line upgrade completed 2008, and the on-going Thameslink upgrade and Crossrail.

The previous Labour government, noting the long lead times involved in some of these major new infrastructure projects, asked Network Rail in 2008 to begin looking at the more complex future rail options, including new lines.

Network Rail's initial report suggested there was a strong case for a completely new rail line from London to the West Midlands which would allow vastly improved services to be run on new and existing lines to Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and other destinations in the north of England and Scotland.

In the South, any new line could connect to a new Heathrow International interchange station on the Great Western main line, providing a direct 4-way interchange between the airport, the new north-south line, existing Great Western rail services and Crossrail into central London. It was also noted that the additional capacity provided by a new line would relieve overcrowding on the West Coast line which was forecast to become overloaded south of Rugby by around 2025.

The Government pointed out that a considerable amount of research into new high speed lines had already been undertaken since 2000, including a feasibility study by W.S. Atkins commissioned by the Srategic Rail Authority in 2001; an analysis carried out by Booz Allen Hamilton for the DfT comparing conventional rail, high speed rail and 'maglev' (magnetic levitation); and the not-for-profit organisation 'Greengauge 21', established in 2006 to "research and develop the concept of a high speed rail network and to promote its implementation as a national economic priority", had published several research papers.

From the international perspective, the UK was lagging behind most other large industrialised countries.  Japan had launched its first high-speed 'bullet train' in 1964, and France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, China, Taiwan, and Korea all had, or were in the process of constructing, high-speed systems.

In addition, there was the environmental aspect to consider, with significant reductions needed in CO2 emissions by the transport sector in order to help meet the 80% emissions reduction target by 2050.  The Government also noted that the energy efficiency of Eurostar trains decreased when on the UK rail network because of the difference in energy mix with France.  Therefore, increasing the non-carbon energy generation in the UK would increase the energy efficiency of any new rail services on a new line.

Subsequently the Government announced in January 2009 that it was creating a new company, High Speed Two (HS2 Ltd), to consider the case for new high speed services from London to Scotland and to develop proposals for a new high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands.

HS2 Ltd reported back at the end of December 2009 and the then Transport Secretary, Andrew Adonis, published the Government's response in a Command Paper, 'High Speed Rail', in March 2010, which set out the Government's proposed strategy for high speed rail and its preferred route option for any high speed line between London and the West Midlands.

The Paper also emphasised that no firm decision could be made on either the preferred route, or the proposed strategy for high speed rail, until a formal public consultation had taken place, in which all those affected by, or interested in, the proposals could participate.

At the same time a consultation was launched on an Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS) to protect the interests of residential owner-occupiers of properties which may be affected by the preferred route option for a new high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands, and who could demonstrate that they had an urgent need to sell their property. The consultation was set to close on 20 May, 2010.

Following the 2010 General Election, the Coalition government, formed on 11 May 2010, indicated its intention to continue with the high speed rail project, saying it believed that a national high speed rail network "offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the way we travel in Britain."

The new Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, announced that the Exceptional Hardship Scheme consultation launched in March 2010 would continue, with the closing date extended to 17 June 2010. He later confirmed that an EHS would be introduced and would open to applications from 20 August 2010.

In February 2011, the Government launched a national consultation – 'High Speed Rail; Investing in Britain's Future' – which set out the Government’s proposed strategy for a national high speed rail network for Britain and the route for an initial line between London and the West Midlands.

The consultation asked seven questions, covering the Government’s overall strategy, the proposed route, the environmental appraisal of the line, and options for supporting property owners affected by the proposals.

The consultation, which closed on 29 July 2011, was reported to be one of the largest ever undertaken by the Department for Transport, attracting almost 55,000 responses, with many thousands more people contributing during 41 days of public events held along the proposed route.

Following the Government's decision, announced in January 2012, to go ahead with the proposed HS2 Y network, HS2 Ltd stated that it intended to deposit a hybrid Bill in Parliament by the end of 2013 which would provide the powers to construct the London to West Midlands line.

The company noted that the Bill would also provide an opportunity for those affected by the proposals to petition Parliament and that a Select Committee could recommend changes to the project.

HS2 Ltd will develop the detailed design of the route and the Environmental Impact Assessment to enable an Environmental Statement to be produced and consulted on in Spring 2013.

Ministers are expected to take a decision on the line of route for Phase 2 no later than the end of 2014.


The proposal to build the new HS2 rail line has attracted considerable criticism and opposition, with a number of campaign groups calling for the whole project to be scrapped.

STOP HS2, a national campaigning group, warns that the new rail line will cut through some of the most beautiful countryside and vibrant villages in England, and claims that the HS2 proposals are seriously flawed from a business, economic and environmental viewpoint.

HS2 Action Alliance, a not for profit organisation working with over 70 local community groups challenging the case for the High Speed 2 project, also claims the business case is flawed, and the environmental case "has collapsed".  HS2AA believes the project is "a waste of money and the wrong priority" and that there are "better alternatives to improving our railways."

A number of groups are signatories to the Right Lines Charter, launched in 2011, which is challenging the way, and the context in which, the HS2 proposals have been developed.  The Charter calls for new approaches to planning, appraisal, public engagement and design. Particular concerns are for a significant reduction in carbon emissions and for decision-making to recognise the value of the natural and historic environment.

Signatories to the Charter include Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, RSPB, Chiltern Society, Environmental Law Foundation, Railfuture, Ramblers, Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, Civic Voice and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

A legal challenge to the HS2 proposals is being brought by four groups: HS2 Action Alliance, Heathrow Hub, Aylesbury Golf Club, and 51M – a group of local authorities opposed to the project.

The High Court confirmed in July 2012 that the five cases from the groups (HS2AA is bringing two cases) will be heard together in December 2012. The challenges relate to the economic case for the route, the consultation process and compensation. The issue of the DfT's admission that 413 responses to a public consultation had been lost is expected to be raised during the proceedings.

Despite the many concerns and criticisms that have been raised, the Government remains convinced that HS2 is the most effective way to provide much-needed additional rail capacity across the country, whilst at the same time supporting economic growth, creating jobs and helping to reduce carbon emissions from the transport sector.

Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, tried to allay some the fears of those most affected by the project by confirming her intention to deliver a generous compensation package "which goes over and above the minimum required by law."

HS2 Ltd has stated that it is committed to its legal duty in line with the government’s commitment to the Aarhus Convention which encourages provision of access to information and greater participation of the public in governmental decision-making processes.


Updated economic case for HS2 – August 2012

The Economic Case for HS2 was published in January 2012 at the time of the Secretary of State’s decision to proceed with the development of a high speed rail network and to confirm the proposed route for Phase 1 of the scheme.

At the time the estimated Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) for Phase 1 between London and the West Midlands was estimated to be 1.7 with Wider Economic Impacts (1.4 without). For the Y network, serving Leeds and Manchester, the BCR range was 1.8 - 2.5 with Wider Economic Impacts (1.6 - 1.9 without).

This paper sets out the results of analysis of the economic case undertaken between January and June 2012 for the London-West Midlands phase of the
project and the full Y network

The economic case for the Y network:

We currently estimate the BCR for the Y network to be in line with the top of the range published in January 2012 - a BCR of around 2.5 including Wider Economic Impacts.

HS2 Y Network quantified costs and benefits (£ billions) of HS2 (2011present value prices) and resulting BCR:

1 Transport User Benefits Business:     £34.3bn
2 Other Quantifiable Benefits     £1.0bn
3 Loss to Government of Indirect Taxes     £3.8bn
4 Net Transport Benefits (PVB)      £48.2bn
5 Wider Economic Impacts (WEIs)      £15.4bn
6 Net Benefits including WEIs     £63.6bn
7 Capital Costs     £36.4bn
8 Operating Costs     £22.3bn
9 Total Costs (7+8)     £58.7bn
10 Revenues     £32.9bn
11 Net Costs to Government (PVC) = (9) – (10)     £25.7bn
12 BCR without WEIs (ratio) = (4)/(11)     1.9
13 BCR with WEIs (ratio) = (6)/(11)     2.5
Please note – table totals may not be an exact sum of components due to rounding.

The economic case for HS2 London to West Midlands:

Quantified costs and benefits of HS2 London to West Midlands benefits (£ billions) of HS2 (2011 present value prices) and resulting BCR:

1 Transport User Benefits Business      £12.6bn
   Other….. £7.2bn
2 Other Quantifiable Benefits….. £0.6bn
3 Loss to Government of Indirect Taxes     £1.6bn
4 Net Transport Benefits (PVB)      £18.8bn
5 Wider Economic Impacts (WEIs)      £4.8bn
6 Net Benefits including WEIs      £23.6bn
7 Capital Costs      £18.8bn
8 Operating Costs      £8.2bn
9 Total Costs (7+8)      £26.9bn
10 Revenues      £13.2bn
11 Net Costs to Government (PVC) = (9) – (10)      £13.8bn
12 BCR without WEIs (ratio) = (4)/(11)      1.4
13 BCR with WEIs (ratio) = (6)/(11)      1.7
Please note – table totals may not be an exact sum of components due to rounding.

The economic case will continue to be refined in the light of updated evidence and DfT guidance, and as the design of the overall scheme is refined in the future.

We expect to publish the next update to the Economic Case in time for consultation on the Phase 2 preferred route and consideration of the Hybrid Bill for London - West Midlands.

Source: HS2 Ltd. – August 2012


Spring 2012 Government receives HS2 Ltd advice on phase 2 route options.
Spring 2012 Engagement programme along phase 1 route on Environmental Impact Assessment issues.
After Summer recess in September 2012 Consultation with statutory bodies on the safeguarding zone for phase 1.
After Summer recess in September 2012 Public consultation on Property compensation proposals.
Autumn 2012 Engagement programme on phase 2 preferred route, to discuss local views and concerns.
Spring 2013 Consultation on draft Environmental Statement for phase 1 including design refinements.
End of 2013 Introduction of a hybrid bill to provide necessary powers to construct and operate phase 1 of the railway.
Early 2014 Consultation on preferred route for phase 2.
Late 2014 Government’s announcement of the chosen route for phase 2.
2015 Target date for Royal Assent for the Hybrid Bill, containing legal powers to construct HS2.
2017-2025 Construction period (starts and ends at different times and at different points along the route).
2024-2026 Commissioning and testing.
2026 Phase 1 line opens to passengers.

Source: DfT - 2012


"We will establish a high speed rail network as part of our programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for creating a low carbon economy. Our vision is of a truly national high speed rail network for the whole of Britain. Given financial constraints, we will have to achieve this in phases. "

The Coalition: Our programme for government.

"While the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) welcomes the Government's commitment to invest in rail as an alternative to road building or air travel, there is a long way to go before we can be sure that HS2 will not have an unacceptable impact on the landscape and local communities.

"Thanks partly due to our campaigning, the rail route can fit in well with the countryside in some places. But elsewhere the impact is at best unknown, at worst potentially devastating.

"It is essential the Government continues to be prepared to make further changes to the route, including lowering its speed and changing its alignment."

Campaign to Protect Rural England - 2012

"Britain is the country that gave birth to the railways….By leading the first rail revolution, our industries flourished, our exports multiplied, and our economy grew wealthy.
"The railways are today as crucial to our current and future national well-being as they were to our past success."

Transport Secretary Justine Greening – January 2012

"We are involved with HS2 because it is important that wildlife impacts are recognised and dealt with appropriately. UK laws and planning regulations lay down strict tests for considering developments that may damage wildlife sites – no less must be demanded of national infrastructure projects like HS2.

"The second reason we are involved in HS2 is that we think it is essential that the Government's transport and climate change policies are aligned. We are convinced that human-induced climate change is the greatest long-term threat to humans and global biodiversity. Studies suggest that up to one third of land-based species on earth could be committed to extinction by 2050 if we do not act to address this problem.

"Spending £32 billion on a project that delivers little or nothing in terms of cuts to greenhouse gas emissions is not a step in the right direction, and we need to call the Government to account on this."

RSPB - 2012

"Whilst I am personally enthusiastic about the tremendous potential that HS2 can offer to many people across the UK, I am determined to ensure that we are as clear as possible about both benefits and impacts of the project."

Doug Oakervee CBE, Chairman of HS2 Ltd – August 2012

“The Wildlife Trusts are seriously disappointed with the approach that has been taken in making the decision on the London to Birmingham route. Sticking to the current proposals would be a one way ticket to unacceptable destruction of our natural environment.

"50 ancient woodlands sit along this route. They are irreplaceable habitats which we stand to lose under the current plans. Our research shows a total of around160 wildlife sites are potentially at risk, along with rare and protected species like the Bechstein’s bat.

“The proposed route for HS2 was decided without an adequate assessment of environmental impacts.

“The Wildlife Trusts recognise the need for an efficient and sustainable transport system and support moves to a low carbon economy. But nature has great value both to the economy and the wellbeing of society. It must not be overlooked in major decisions on built infrastructure."

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts - 2012

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