Project Spotlight: HS2 – Britain’s new high-speed railway

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The High Speed (HS2) project will deliver 250 miles of new high-speed rail connections across the country, bringing more investments and jobs into the British economy.

About HS2

HS2 is the largest infrastructure project in Europe and one of the most complex projects ever undertaken. Britain’s new high-speed rail line is being built from London to the North-West, with HS2 trains stopping in Scotland, Manchester, Birmingham, and London.

Major civil engineering works are now underway, with £23 billion contracted into the supply chain and over 350 active sites between the West Midlands and London. 170 miles of new high-speed line are already under construction between Crewe and London, with over 250 miles of new high-speed line planned across the country. 

The construction of the new railway is split into three phases:

  • Phase One linking London and the West Midlands;
  • Phase 2a linking the West Midlands and the North via Crewe; and
  • Phase 2b completing the railway to Manchester, the East Midlands and the North.

HS2 will begin running between 2029 and 2033 when Phase One is complete, and services will expand as new sections of the network are built.

What are the benefits of HS2

HS2 supports almost 25,000 jobs, and thousands of UK businesses are directly helping to build the railway. The project is also helping to develop new, clean construction methods and supporting community projects. HS2 will provide zero-carbon travel, connect major towns and cities better, and increase the rail network’s capacity.

The West Coast Main Line (WCML) is UK’s most important strategic rail corridor, uniting the capitals of England and Scotland with some of the country’s more regional economies. However, this Victorian rail line is the busiest in Europe and has inefficient, overcrowded train services that hamper the regions and UK’s overall economy. 

The Government has closely examined all possible solutions to fix this issue in the past decade. However, the existing rail corridor cannot be improved much further, and bottlenecks on the West Coast Main Line cannot be upgraded without massive long-term disruption. Only a new line can help bring the regions and increase capacity on the network. 

With all three phases of the project now in progress and two decades of construction work still ahead of HS2, the scale of opportunity for individuals and businesses on HS2 across the UK continues to grow at pace.

Capacity

Investment in HS2’s current rail infrastructure has amounted to more than £74 billion in the past ten years. The existing rail network cannot provide all the additional capacity required, whereas the new high-speed line will help improve freight services and train passengers’ local and regional journeys.

A further upgrade to current lines would cause significant disruption for passengers and communities and would deliver a fraction of the capacity of a new railway line. For instance, in the next 15 years, upgrading existing lines instead of building the first phase is estimated to have 2,700 weekend closures.

How HS2 creates more rail capacity

Building HS2 will free up a massive amount of space on the existing railway by placing long-distance services on their tracks. HS2 trains are expected to carry over 300,000 passengers daily once the network is operational. When complete, HS2 will have additional capacity along the UK’s main North-South rail routes; West Coast, East Cost and Midland main lines. This indicates that more train services will be running close together to relieve overcrowding and have fewer delays.

Hundreds of thousands of lorries will be taken off the roads yearly as more freight can travel by rail. 76 lorries from Britain’s roads will be removed from each freight train, which currently amounts to 1.5 billion fewer kilometres a year by heavy goods vehicles or more than seven million lorry journeys.

By doing this, it will:

  • help reduce carbon emissions,
  • improve air quality and,
  • make motorways safer.

HS2 Sustainability

All HS2 trains will be powered by zero-carbon energy from day one of the services in 2035. It will offer a cleaner alternative to long-distance car journeys and domestic flights. This commitment will play a critical part in supporting HS2 Ltd’s aim to make the project net zero carbon, with targets of diesel-free construction sites and reducing steel and concrete carbon content.

Click here to see the Net Zero Carbon Plan.

HS2 is designed to be the world’s most sustainable high-speed rail network. Cutting carbon emissions informs HS2’s work as they build a climate-resilient railway that will transform long-distance, intercity travel and rebalance the UK economy.

Transport has a huge role to play in the economy reaching net zero. The scale of the challenge demands a step change in both the breadth and scale of ambition and HS2 must act quickly and decisively to reduce emissions.

To tackle climate change, the UK must address its largest source of carbon emissions – transport. The clean, green answer is rail. HS2 will change how goods will be moved increasingly by rail rather than road. More space for freight trains will reduce traffic and improve air quality.

HS2 will also provide a zero carbon alternative to domestic air travel between Scotland and the South East by connecting our major cities better. Because, unlike planes and lorries, train travel on HS2 will be electric, which will be from zero-carbon energy. 

Destination Net Zero 

From 2035, HS2 will either reduce the emissions they produce to zero or make those we cannot eliminate net zero using natural or technological methods, known as carbon offsetting. This will allow HS2 to remove the same level of emissions that HS2 produces. The target covers how the high-speed rail network will be built, operated and maintained from 2035.

Connectivity

Connectivity will act as a catalyst for growth and help level up the country, boosting growth in the Midlands and North. Better connectivity opens up new employment and leisure opportunity for millions of people.

Running between the Midlands, the North and the South East, HS2 Pty Ltd will form the new spine of Britain’s rail system. HS2 trains will also run on the existing network, serving cities and towns in the North West, North East and Scotland.

As a result, HS2 has the potential to change the economic geography of the country and be a catalyst for growth. More investment in the Midlands and the North will open up new leisure and business opportunities for millions of people by bringing Britain closer together.

HS2 will make it easier for people across Britain to live and work with trains travelling up to 225mph on state-of-the-art zero carbon and designed with today’s passenger needs in mind. 

An improved connection will boost demand for the tourism industry, worth over £200 billion to the economy annually and responsible for supporting millions of jobs nationwide. HS2 will provide services for favourite tourist destinations such as District, London, York and Durham.

The controversy around HS2

Britain’s new high-speed railway system is proposed to bring highly advanced and environmentally solutions to the country’s transport issue. However, not everyone is supportive of high-speed rail. 

Currently, £35-45 billion will be spent on Phase One, and £5.2-7.2 billion will be spent on Phase 2a. Campaigners have raised concerns that the likeliness of people going to work physically has reduced the need to travel after COVID-19 struck in 2020. Instead, they say that the money invested into the HS2 project could have rather been spent on improving the existing transport links. 

Many people have also raised their concerns about their homes being affected by the HS2 project with the British Government buying properties to make way for the line.

Funding of HS2

The Government has committed funding for the delivery of Phase One (London to West Midlands) and Phase 2a (West Midlands to Crewe).

Phase 2b (Crewe to Manchester and West Midlands to Leeds) is under review by the Government as part of its Integrated Rail Plan and has no confirmed budget.

The National Audit Office has recommended using ranges to indicate cost (and schedule) forecasts for major projects.

  • Phase One: £35-45bn, including contingency of £9.6bn
  • Phase 2a: £5.2-7.2bn

Currently, the project remains within budget and schedule in delivering Phase 1 (London – West Midlands) and Phase 2a (West Midlands to Crewe).

Phase One: London to West Midlands

With 134 miles of dedicated track, high-speed trains will pass through 31 miles of tunnels and over ten miles of viaducts. This will deliver quicker journeys on more trains with more seating opportunities. Royal Assent was granted for Phase One of HS2 on 23 February 2017.

The Full Business Case for the first phase of the scheme between the West Midlands and London, ‘HS2 Phase One, was approved in April 2020.

The overall budget for Phase One, including Euston, is £44.6 billion (2019 prices) and remains within budget. This includes a contingency of £9.6bn for managing the risk and uncertainties inherent in delivering major projects.

The projected delivery into service date range for Phase One is between 2029 and 2033.

Phase 2a: West Midlands to Crewe

The HS2 Phase 2a line will connect from the Northern end of Phase One at Fradley in the West Midlands to Crewe in Cheshire. Services will join the existing rail network system to create direct services to multiple places involving Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Carlisle, and Glasgow at Crewe. Royal Assent was granted for Phase 2a of HS2 on 11 February 2021.

The Government’s latest updated cost estimate for Phase 2a is £5.2-7.2bn (in 2019 prices) and remains within budget.

The projected delivery into service date range for Phase 2a is from 2030 to 2034.

Click here to see view more about the assessment overview of the costs and schedule ranges for Phase 2a.

Phase 2b: Crewe to Manchester, West Midlands to Leeds

The Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands published by the Government sets out the updated proposals for delivering HS2 Phase 2b, Northern Powerhouse Rail, Midlands Rails Hub, and other rail programmes more effectively. 

Currently, there is not yet a confirmed budget for this Phase of the HS2 railway.

Click here to see an overview of the funding and schedule for the entire HS2 project.

HS2 has reached an important milestone by funding over 200 projects through the Community & Environment Fund (CEF) and Business & Local Economy Fund (BLEF). Since CEF and BLEF were set up in 2017, the programmes have provided over £12.4 million in funding to organisations and community groups impacted by the construction of HS2.

Currently, 216 organisations have received an average grant of £58,000 in funding projects that leave a lasting positive legacy for the local community, including new skills training programmes, community facility refurbishments, and new natural environments.

The HS2 Community and Business Funds are managed by the independent community charity ‘Groundwork’. CEF and BLEF fundings are available to community groups and organisations for business partnerships and public benefits impacted by the construction of the London to Birmingham and Birmingham to Crewe phases of the construction project.

Two Funds are available to local communities and businesses to help with the disruption caused by the construction of Phase one of HS2 between London and the West Midlands; the Community and Environment Fund (CEF) and the Business and Local Economy Fund (BLEF). Environmental projects funded will go towards realising HS2’s Green Corridor ambition.

Community and Business Funds for Phase One

There is £40 million available for the Community and Business funds since being launched in March 2017. From this, there has been an overwhelmingly positive uptake of the funding from Phase One communities. All communities along the Phase One line of the route must receive a fair share of funding. 

There is £40million available for Phase One communities and businesses. Since the Funds launch in March 2017, there has been an overwhelmingly positive uptake of the funding from Phase One communities. All communities along the Phase One line of the route must receive a fair share of funding. The Phase One local authority areas, which have received less than the average level of CEF and BLEF funding, will be prioritised to help with this.

Click here to find our more information on the priority areas.

Community and Business Funds for Phase 2a

A further £5 million for Community & Environment Fund and Business & Local Economy Fund has been made available for Phase 2a communities and businesses, and applications open for funding on the 1st of April 2021.

A £2 million Biodiversity Investment Fund (BIF) is also available for Phase 2a communities. Click here to find out more about these funds.

All of these funds are administered and managed by the independent community charity, Groundwork UK. Click here for more information on Groundwork UK and the Funds.

Community and Business Funds for Future Phases

The Funds have been designed with all three Phases in mind. An announcement about future CEF & BLEF funding for Phase 2b communities and businesses will be made at the appropriate time and in collaboration with the Minister and the Department for Transport.

Click here to view the HS2 Community and Business Funds project map. 

HS2 Route

HS2 will integrate with new lines and upgrades across Britain’s rail system to deliver faster travel to many towns and cities across Britain not directly on the HS2 route, including Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham, and Derby. The government plans over 260 miles of new high-speed lines across the country. 

The construction of the new railway is split into three phases:

  • Phase One linking London and the West Midlands;
  • Phase 2a linking the West Midlands and the North via Crewe; and
  • Phase 2b completing the railway to Manchester, the East Midlands and the North.

London to West Midlands

Phase One of HS2 will see a new high-speed railway line constructed from London to the West Midlands, where it will rejoin the existing West Coast Mainline. Services will travel to Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Preston and Wigan. Phase One will open between 2029 and 2033.

The new line will run on 140 miles of dedicated track. Four new stations and two new depots will also be built, and 25,300 workers will be required to complete construction.

Once operational, HS2 will serve over 25 stations connecting around 30 million people. HS2 will significantly improve connectivity in the North and Midlands and integrate the existing network serving stations into Scotland, creating 500,000 jobs and 90,000 homes around HS2 stations.

HS2 Stations

Old Oak Common Station

Old Oak Common is a new super-hub set to be UK’s largest new railway and best-connected station. The construction has been ongoing since 2017, and there will be fourteen stations where direct interchange will be provided between high-speed rail and rail services. Six out of fourteen will be underground and sit within a 850m-long station box. 

32,000 cubic metres of former rail depot sheds and outbuildings were cleared by HS2’s Enabling Works Contractor, Costain Skanska JV (CSJV). They worked through 105,000 cubic metres of earth to clear the site and remove contamination built over the continuous railway use. 

The Old Oak Common station will provide over 50 escalators and lifts when constructed. It will also support up to 65,000 jobs and 25,500 new homes as it will be UK’s biggest regeneration infrastructure project. 

Birmingham Curzon Street Station 

Birmingham Curzon Street Station will be in the centre of West Midland’s high-speed rail network. Mace Dragados Joint Venture (MDJV) has been selected as HS2’s Construction Partner for the station since May 2021. The station will include eco-friendly and sustainable technologies including capturing rainwater and utilising sustainable power generation, with over 2800m2 of solar panels on platform canopies. 

The Birmingham Curzon Street station will create 36,000 new occupations, over 4000 new housing, and 600,000m2 commercial development. 

London Euston Station 

London Euston Station will bring services to the capital of England. This station will be built in a single stage to reduce the construction period and impacts on passengers and the community using the existing railway station at Euston. Mace Dragados Joint Venture (MDJV) will carry out the entire station construction work. 

The station will be set across three levels, with ten 450m subsurface platforms, which will be used by 17 high-speed rail trains per hour at peak operation. Trains will serve destinations in the West Midlands and the North. 

Approximately 3000 jobs will be supported at peak and offer hundreds of contract opportunities through the supply chain after construction of the London Euston station is complete.

Click here to read more about the progress of London Euston Station.

Interchange Station

The new Interchange station will serve Solihull, Birmingham Airport and the NEC. Sustainability is the main focus as it is the first railway station to achieve the BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ certification globally. This is a measure of sustainability for a refurbished new building, placing it in the top 1% of buildings for eco-friendly credentials in the United Kingdom.

Laing O’Rourke Delivery Limited will build the new Interchange Station, where there will be two stages to finalise the design and build the station over the following years. The construction site for the station covers an area of 150 hectares within a triangle of land formed by the M42, A45 and A452. Significant progress has been made, including constructing modular bridges over the M42 and A446 as part of a remodelled road network to access the Interchange station.

This contract is worth up to £370m, helping to support 30,000 jobs, 3000 new housing, and 70,000m2 of commercial space.

Click here to read more about the contract for Interchange Station. 

Tunnels

The London to West Midlands part of the HS2 route will have 103km (64 miles) of the tunnel.

  • Euston Tunnel – a 7.2km (4.5 miles) tunnel that will take passengers from Euston station to Old Oak Common station.
  • Northolt Tunnel – a 13.5km (8.4 miles) tunnel under London that will take passengers from Old Oak Common to West Ruislip.
  • Chiltern Tunnel – the longest and deepest tunnel will be the Chiltern tunnel measuring 16km (10 miles) long and will go as deep as 90 metres.
  • Long Itchington Wood Tunnel – a short 1.6km (1 mile) long tunnel under Long Itchington Wood, preserving this ancient woodland.
  • Bromford Tunnel – a 5.6km (3.5 miles) twin-bore tunnel situated just outside Birmingham
New rail tunnels to carry HS2 trains

Viaducts and bridges

  • Over 500 bridging structures will be constructed under and over the route.
  • Over 50 viaducts measuring about 15km (9 miles) will be built.
  • The UK’s longest viaduct will cross the Colne Valley. It will be over two miles, 3.4km (2 miles) long, 0.9km (0.6 miles) longer than the Forth Rail Bridge.
  • Delta Junction outside Birmingham is 5.9 miles 9.5km (5.9 miles) long and consists of 7 bridges and viaducts spanning three rail lines, eight roads, five rivers and canals and the M6.

Cuttings and embankments

  • Over 70 cuttings will be excavated, measuring over 72km (44 miles).
  • The longest is the Calvert Cutting at 4.1km (2.5 miles) with a maximum depth of 9.7m.
  • The deepest is Lower Thorpe Cutting at 30.5m deep.
  • Over 110 embankments, measuring about 61km (38 miles) long, will be constructed.
  • The longest embankment will be Grendon Underwood at 3km (1.8 miles) long.

West Midlands to Crewe 

Phase 2a HS2 will see a new high-speed railway line constructed at the northern end of Phase One at Fradley in the West Midlands to Crewe in Cheshire. Services will join the existing rail network to create direct services to places including Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Carlisle and Glasgow. Crewe is also the station for connections to North Wales and Shrewsbury.

It will be built at the same time as the line between London and the West Midlands. High-speed services will begin operating between London, Birmingham and Crewe between 2029 and 2033.

Over 20,000 jobs are supported by HS2, with more big contracts and employment opportunities. They will be constructing a railway, a feat of British engineering. The Phase 2a route will support 6,500 occupations. Almost 1,500 more than previously forecast.

The infrastructure will consist of:

  • 17 viaducts
  • 65 bridges
  • 36 embankments
  • 26 cuttings
  • one maintenance base
  • two tunnels

Crewe to Manchester

The high-speed rail network will be extended from Crewe to Manchester, serving new stations at Manchester Airport (subject to third-party funding) and Manchester Piccadilly. This will free up capacity on the congested West Coast Main Line and deliver significant connectivity, reliability and journey time benefits for passengers.

The UK Government introduced the High-Speed (Crewe – Manchester) hybrid Bill into Parliament on 24 January 2022 to seek the legal powers to build and operate this next phase of Britain’s new high-speed, zero carbon railway. The Bill process could take several years.

The second Reading of the Bill, during which its main principles were debated in the House of Commons, took place on 20 June 2022, with MPs voting that it should pass to the next stage.

Click here to read more about Phase 2b, Crewe to Manchester scheme.
 

West Midlands to Leeds

The UK Government has published its Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands, which sets out plans to deliver HS2 Phase 2b, Northern Powerhouse Rail, Midlands Rail Hub and other rail programmes better and more effectively.

The Government’s Integrated Rail Plan sets out the following plans:

  • Subject to consultation, a stretch of the new high-speed line will be built from the West Midlands to the East Midlands, based mainly on the existing safeguarded route, connecting to the existing railway line near East Midlands Parkway Station (close to East Midlands Airport).
  • The Government will accelerate transport improvements at Toton, such as a station for local/regional services, with delivery subject to significant private sector investment – on a 50:50 match-funded basis with the taxpayer – coming forward at the site and developer contributions.
  • Complete electrification of the Midland Mainline will allow HS2 trains to serve Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield.
  • Taking forward a package of upgrades to the East Coast Mainline (ECML), delivering faster and more reliable services to Leeds, York, Newcastle and other places on the ECML.
  • The Government is also undertaking further work to look at the most effective way to run HS2 trains to Leeds, including assessing capacity at Leeds station.

Building HS2

HS2 Tunnels

The new tunnels between London and Crewe will form part of the HS2 network that will help connect the country, rebalance the UK economy and create thousands of jobs.

Ten giant tunnel boring machines (TBMs) will dig the 103 km (64 miles) of tunnels between London and Crewe. The tunnels for the London to West Midlands section of the route will be constructed in five separate tunnel drives.

The tunnels will be constructed in several different locations along the route. In total, 130 million tonnes of earth will be excavated, enough to fill Wembley Stadium 15 times. HS2’s Chiltern Tunnel will be 16 km (10 miles) long and run depths of up to 90 metres, making it the deepest point on the route.

HS2 Green Tunnels

A green tunnel is where a trench is excavated and roofed over, and then the land on top is restored, so it blends into the landscape.

Some of HS2’s tunnels will be created by Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs), while others will be built using the cut-and-cover construction method with trees and shrubs planted. This is why they’re known as ‘green tunnels.’

Over half of the route between London and the West Midlands will be in tunnels or cuttings. This will help reduce the visual impacts on the landscape.

This is a simple construction method for shallow tunnels, and HS2 is building these to help reduce the impact on people and nature.

First, a cutting is excavated where the green tunnel is needed. The excavated earth is kept close by, as it will be needed later on. In the second stage, once the concrete floor has been laid, pre-cast segments are installed, forming the tunnel’s structure. The final stage occurs after the tunnels have been installed. The earth removed from the area is back-filled, new trees and shrubs are planted, and the tunnel blends into the landscape, connecting wildlife habitats along the route line.

In the project’s first phase, HS2 will construct five ‘green tunnels’ between London and Crewe.  These will be located in:

  • Copthall in Hillingdon
  • Wendover in Buckinghamshire
  • Chipping Warden and Greatworth, both in Northamptonshire, and
  • Burton Green in the West Midlands.

Click here to read more about HS2’s construction on the first pioneering Green Tunnel in the UK.

HS2 Tunnel Boring Machines

HS2 will use TBMs to excavate tunnels through a variety of soil and rock in dense urban areas and to reduce environmental impacts in rural areas.

Each machine operates as a self-contained underground factory, which as well as digging the tunnel, will also line it with concrete wall segments and grout them into place as it moves forward at a speed of around 15 metres per day. A crew of 17 people will operate each Tunnel Boring Machine, working in shifts to keep the machines running 24/7. They will be supported by people on the surface, managing the logistics and maintaining the smooth progress of the tunnelling operation.

Click here to read more about HS2’s first tunnelling breakthrough for Europe’s largest infrastructure project.

TBM Cecilia beginning her journey under the Chilterns on the HS2 route between London and Crewe

Chiltern Tunnel

Chiltern Tunnel is the longest and deepest tunnel between London and Crewe, measuring 16km (10 miles) long and go as deep as 90 metres.

Two Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs), Florence and Cecilia, are being used to create the twin bored Chiltern Tunnel, where nearly four miles under the Chilterns have already been completed. 

Read more about the completed stage of excavating the Chiltern Tunnels here.

These two TBMs were designed explicitly for the Chiltern Tunnels. The 2000-tonne machines are a self-contained underground factory, digging the tunnel, lining it with concrete wall segments and grouting them into place as they move forward.

HS2 Bridges and Viaducts

HS2 will build more than 500 bridges, including over 50 major viaducts, which will stretch for a total of 15km (9 miles) across valleys, rivers, roads and flood plains.

Alongside the major structures carrying the high-speed line, many of our bridges will bring existing roads, bridleways and footpaths over or under the railway to ensure communities stay connected. Once complete, HS2’s longest viaduct – spanning the Colne Valley just outside London – will also become the UK’s longest railway bridge.


The British Government will continue to work on implementing the Integrated Rail Plan and anticipate providing further information as soon as possible. HS2 recognises that this causes uncertainty and the community engagement teams remain in place to support everyone across Great Britain.

Source: © High Speed Two Ltd 2022

Image Source: © High Speed Two Ltd 2022

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