London to Manchester in less time than it takes for United to play Arsenal? Birmingham to London quicker than it takes enjoy a pint and an order of fish and chips down the way at the Queen’s Head pub? Birmingham to Leeds in the time it takes to enjoy a pot of tea? It could all happen – and via train, no less – now that the U.K. government has given the go-ahead to a national high speed rail network called HS2.
The U.K.’s Department of Transport recently backed the $50 billion (US) project – talked about and argued about for years – that will build an ambitious, Y-shaped network linking London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and the East Midlands via high-speed trains capable of speeds up to 250 mph. The new network will also connect with the existing West Coast and East Coast main lines to serve passengers beyond the HS2 network in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Durham, York, Darlington, Liverpool, Preston, Wigan and Lancaster.
The new network will be built in two phases. Construction on the first link – a new 140-mile line between London and Birmingham – will get underway by 2017 with a finish date set at 2026. The second phase will see lines built from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester by 2033. The first phase of HS2 will include a connection to Europe via the Channel Tunnel. The network will include a direct link to Heathrow Airport.
These are not just any trains. The HS2 bullets will be up to a quarter of a mile long with 1,100 seats.
According to Transport Secretary Justine Greening, the project will generate economic benefits of close to $73 billion (US) and fare revenues of close to 53 billion pounds over a 60-year period. The network will also ease the nation’s growing congestion troubles, transferring in the neighborhood of 9 million auto journeys and close to 4.5 million air journeys to the rail network per year.