UK commits to building high-speed rail line dubbed the most expensive in the world

Key Points
  • HS2 has caused controversy over environmental impact and ballooning costs.
  • It will connect London to Birmingham in the initial phase.
  • Trains on the line will be able to travel up to 250 miles per hour.
Getty Images | Christopher Furlong

The U.K. government has signed off on a high-speed rail line that was first announced more than a decade ago.

High Speed 2 (HS2) was first proposed in 2009 under a Labour Party government before a Conservative-led administration in 2010 revealed plans for a London to Birmingham route due for completion by 2031.

HS1 is Britain's only current high-speed rail track linking London to the Channel Tunnel, which connects the country to France. It opened in 2003.

HS2 should enable trains to reach speeds of up to 250 miles per hour (mph). Speaking after a cabinet meeting Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons on Tuesday that his government had the "guts to take the decision" to deliver prosperity across the country.

HS2 has caused controversy over environmental impact and ballooning costs. The 2015 budget put the cost at just under £56 billion ($72.4 billion), but a leaked report in January claimed that costs had almost doubled to £106 billion.

Addressing the cost, Johnson said he will appoint a full-time government minister to take charge of HS2, instill discipline in the project timetable and look for cost savings.

A second stage of the line will connect Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, but would not be completed before 2035.

A lobby group STOP HS2 says that rather than benefiting other regions of Britain, the rail line is in fact London-centric and is being built to connect an area of northwest London that developers see as ripe for financial services companies.

It also claims the high-speed train will cause large destruction to the natural environment, traveling through ancient woodlands, nature reserves and almost 700 classified wildlife sites.

STOP HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said in January that the case for HS2 has been pushed by people who have persuaded lawmakers to "believe and repeat fact-free bombastic rhetoric and wishful thinking."

Rukin said the rising costs of the project were always known by people who were likely to gain government contracts to build the line.

"People with vested commercial interests in seeing the government commit to building the most expensive railway in the history of the world lobbied hard and got what they wanted," he added.

UK economy

The new Conservative government has been split over HS2 with many lawmakers receiving objections from people living in constituencies affected by the line.

But the line is seen as part of government promises to stimulate growth beyond the southeast of England in a post-Brexit world.

The U.K. economy has been struggling to post an increase in activity and on Tuesday, official figures revealed that the country witnessed no growth at all in the final three months of 2019.

"There was no growth in the last quarter of 2019 as increases in the services and construction sectors were offset by another poor showing from manufacturing, particularly the motor industry," said Rob Kent-Smith, Office for National Statistic head of gross domestic product, in a statement.