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hs2 high speed train

Construction begins on HS2

As construction starts on the high-speed railway, the Transport Secretary has defended the often-divisive project, claiming that it will be “still going strong” in 150 years.

High Speed 2 (HS2) will connect London to Manchester and Leeds via Birmingham, with a Y-shaped network. Trains will be able to travel at up to 360km/h on the tracks. It is hoped that building HS2 will increase rail network capacity while causing minimal disruption to existing services, and will boost and rebalance the UK economy.

After years of planning, disagreement, and reviews, the government gave HS2 the green light in February and construction has officially started. Work will begin on the London-Birmingham segment, and will initially focus on the largest engineering challenges such as tunnels and city centre stations, followed by the main viaducts and bridges.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement: “HS2 is at the heart of our plans to build back better – and with construction now formally under way, it’s set to create around 22,000 new jobs. As the spine of our country’s transport network, the project will be vital in boosting connectivity between our towns and cities.”

HS2 Ltd CEO Mark Thurston commented: “This is a hugely exciting moment in the progress of HS2. After 10 years of development and preparatory work, today we can formally announce the start of full construction, unlocking thousands of jobs and supply chain opportunities across the project.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps argued that HS2 would continue to be used into the late 22nd century.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a sudden shift to remote working – with strong interest among employers and employees in longer-term remote working – causing demand for trains to fall by more than half and raising further questions about the necessity of HS2. Campaign group Stop HS2 has argued that the case for building HS2 “has gone from questionable to completely non-existent”.

“We’re not building this for what happens over the next couple of years or even the next 10 years,” Shapps said. “We’re building this – as with the West Coast and East Coast mainlines – for 150 years and still going strong.”

“So, I think the idea that – unless we work out a way of teletransporting people – that we won’t want a system to get people around the country […] is wrong.”

HS2 has been criticised for its potential environmental impact and its ballooning budget, which some anti-HS2 groups argue would be better spent improving local transport infrastructure. The cost of HS2 in 2010 was estimated at between £30.9bn and £36bn, but a 2019 government review estimated that the project would cost between £80.7bn and £88.7bn, possibly reaching costs of £106bn. The review also warned that it could be delivered up to five years behind schedule.

Speaking on the BBC, Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said that HS2 will displace jobs as well as create them, adding: “Trying to spin HS2 as a job-creation scheme is beyond desperate. Creating 22,000 jobs works out at almost £2m just to create a single job.”

Shapps responded by saying that HS2 would “clearly […] make the economy level up”.

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