Major construction work at the project site is expected to begin in the coming weeks. Credit: HS2 Ltd.
Birmingham City Council approved three planning applications for the new Curzon Street station in April 2020. Credit: HS2 Ltd.
The construction of two modular bridges near the site of the new interchange station is in progress. Credit: HS2 Ltd.

HS2 is a new high speed railway line under development set to run between London and Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. The route is also referred to as the Y network since it is roughly in the shape of the letter Y.

It is one of the most substantial transport infrastructure projects ever built in the UK. The project will provide vital transportation links between cities and regions across the UK. The HS2 network will reduce journey times between some of the country’s largest cities and create economic benefits and thousands of jobs.

The preparation works for the project are nearing completion and major construction work on phase I of the HS2 line is expected to begin in the third quarter of 2020. The UK Government approved the start of project work in April 2020, paving the way for companies to proceed with construction work in accordance with safety measures for the Covid-19. The railway line was originally planned to be opened to passengers in 2026, but the commissioning is expected to take place between 2028 and 2031. The UK currently operates a 108km high-speed railway line known as High Speed 1 (HS1).

The project implementation cost has escalated from an originally estimated £56bn ($72.61bn) to £106bn ($136.45bn).

Timeline of the HS2’s developments and total line length

A company named HS2 was set up in January 2009 by the Department for Transport (DfT) for the development of the project. The company submitted the proposals to the government in the first quarter of 2010 and the preferred route option was announced in October 2010. The public consultation on the proposals was completed by July 2011. The government approved the recommended route in January 2012.

The HS2 project work under the first phase involves engineering, design and environmental work. A hybrid bill providing the authority to construct phase I of the project cleared both Houses of Parliament and subsequently obtained Royal Assent in February 2017.

The second phase of the project is proposed to be implemented in two stages, Phase 2a and Phase 2b. The House of Commons passed the Phase 2a in July 2019 and the hybrid bill for the phase is expected to be passed in 2020. The hybrid bill for Phase 2b is anticipated to be introduced in the Parliament in the second half of 2020.

The proposed London to Birmingham line will be about 140 miles (225km) long and the total Y network will be around 330 miles (531km) long. More than 50% of the 140-mile route will pass through cuttings or tunnels, while around 56.5 miles (91km) will be partly or completely concealed to reduce noise and visual effects in neighboring communities.

The first phase of HS2 will cost around £16.3bn ($25.8bn) to construct. The full Y-shaped network, including connections with the Channel Tunnel and Heathrow, will cost £32.7bn ($51.9bn).

Routes of the HS2 railway network from London to Birmingham

HS2 will extend from London (Euston train station) to central Birmingham (Curzon Street station), and then divide into two branches, running towards Manchester and Leeds, with connections to the existing East and West Coast main lines.

The route between London and Birmingham will continue through a 4.5 mile (7.2km) long tunnel after Euston. From there, it will continue through new interchange stations at Old Oak Common in north-west London and Birmingham, where it passes the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) and Birmingham Airport.

Passengers can access Crossrail, Heathrow Express and Great Western Main Line services at Old Oak Common interchange. The route segments between London and West Midlands will include tunnels at Ruislip and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Sections near Turweston, Chipping Warden, Southam and Burton Green will consist of cutting and tunnel segments.

The project will see up to five trains per hour passing through the new interchange near Birmingham Airport. It will include an automated people mover that will link to the NEC, Birmingham International Station and Birmingham Airport. The automated mover will have the capacity to transport up to 2,100 passengers an hour in each direction along a 2.3km-long route.

The interchange station will be equipped with environmentally friendly design and features to encourage sustainability. It will have net zero carbon emissions and be installed with more than 2,000m² of solar panels. Curzon Street station received planning approval from the Birmingham City Council in April 2020.

Details of HS2 Phase 2

Phase 2a of the railway line will provide connectivity between the West Midlands and Crewe, with first trains on the section expected to run in 2030-2031. The next phase, Phase 2b, connecting Manchester and Leeds, will start operations between 2036 and 2040.

The Phase 2a line will allow passengers to travel between Fradley in the West Midlands and Crewe in Cheshire. It will offer onward travel to Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Wigan and Glasgow. Phase 2b will include a Y shape, comprising two legs. The western leg will run until Manchester, while the eastern leg will carry passengers to Leeds.

Rolling stock for the UK’s high-speed rail system

The HS2 will be operated with high-speed only trains and classic compatible trains offering higher seating capacities, to serve the large volumes of passengers arriving at the same time.

High-speed only trains operate only on high-speed tracks, while classic compatible trains run on high-speed and existing tracks.

High-speed trains will run at a speed of 225mph. Each unit will have a length of 200m and the capacity to carry 1,100 passengers.

Two vehicles can be joined together for operating during peak times. High-speed trains will require different types of stations, offering a platform height of 760mm.

Contractors involved with HS2 construction

CH2M Hill was appointed as a development partner to provide engineering, design and environmental assistance for the HS2 project in January 2012.

In March 2012, HS2 contracted the ERM Temple Group Mott MacDonald Consortium, Atkins and Arup to undertake environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for the project.

In April 2012, HS2 placed contracts with Mott Macdonald, Atkins, Capita Symonds Ineco JV and Arup for designing various segments along the high speed line.

In May 2012, Parsons Brinckerhoff was awarded contracts to design high speed rail systems for the first phase of the project and to deliver design changes on the present Network Rail systems at major interface points, to allow the construction of HS2.

Three joint ventures (JV) were selected to perform enabling works. A JV of Costain Group and Skanska Construction UK was contracted to handle Area South, while the central and northern area works are being conducted by Fusion JV (Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure, BAM Nuttall, Ferrovial Agroman) and LM JV (Laing O’Rourke Construction, J Murphy & Sons).

The joint venture of Skanska, STRABAG, and Costain won the main civil engineering works contract on Area South of the HS2 project. Skanska, as part of the JV, received a contract to perform full detailed design and construction of phase one in the southern area.

Ove Arup & Partners International and WSP UK were selected for station design services contracts in February 2018. Lendlease was appointed as the Master Development Partner (MDP) for the Euston station area.

Cleveland Bridge is under contract to supply 1,130t of steel girders to support the construction of four modular bridges at the new Solihull interchange station of the project.