British government unveils plan for high-speed rail line linking London and northern England

LONDON – The British government on Monday unveiled details of new high-speed rail lines linking London to cities in northern England with trains travelling up to 225 miles an hour (360 kph).

The government says the project, known as High Speed 2, will be the first new railway built north of London for more than a century, and will be an economic and environmental boon. But opponents claim the plan is too expensive and will ruin tracts of picturesque countryside.

The first 140-mile (225-kilometre) stretch of the line, announced last year, will link London to Birmingham, England’s second-largest city. The Y-shaped section announced Monday will extend to the northern cities of Manchester and Leeds.

The first section of the line is due to be completed by 2026 and the second by 2032.

Officials say the 32.7 billion-pound ($51 billion) project will create at least 100,000 jobs and cut journey times almost in half, covering the 200 miles (320 kilometres) between London and Manchester in an hour and eight minutes.

Treasury chief George Osborne said the railway would be “the engine for growth in the north and the Midlands of this country” — and worth it, despite the opposition.

“If our predecessors hadn’t decided to build the railways in the Victorian times or the motorways in the middle part of the 20th century, then we wouldn’t have those things today,” Osborne told the BBC.

“So you’ve got to commit to these projects, even though they take many years and, yes, they are expensive, but they are also an investment in the economy that will then create the money to enable us to afford our NHS (health service) and our education system and so on,” he said.

High Speed 1, which linked London south to the tunnel under the English Channel, was completed in 2007.