Two hundred years ago, the building of the first railways transformed transport and with it, Britain’s economic fortunes – linking up people and places, opening up opportunity and helping to herald the industrial revolution which transformed the UK into the nation we know today.
Today, as we build back from the Covid pandemic, continue the fight against climate change and work to level up across our regions and nations – the Government is embarking on what will be the defining railway project of this and the next century.
High Speed 2 – which has been in development for the last decade and has now begun construction – will play a vital role in linking up our communities, boosting the economy and offering low-carbon transport options for millions of people.
It will bolster the existing rail network, providing extra capacity where it’s needed, and plugging into the network to deliver direct journeys to 25 towns and cities across the UK.
The extra capacity this new rail link will deliver will be instrumental in getting more people out of cars, off domestic flights and onto clean, green high-speed rail. It will also free up space on the existing network for more local services and freight – taking trucks off our crowded roads.
That’s why I’m thrilled to see construction now starting in earnest on Phase One and Royal Assent secured for Phase 2a. We’ve been working at a local level doing the essential but often low-key enabling works for many years, but the launch of our first tunnelling machines is something on quite a different scale.
In May, I was lucky enough to be at the South Portal of the Chiltern tunnel with HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson to witness the start of construction on what will be the longest tunnels on the project. The scale of the work is immense – two 170-metrelong, 2,000-tonne tunnelling machines, 112,000 individual 8.5 tonne wall segments and more than three years of work 24/7 to excavate the twin 10-mile-long tunnels.
This is just the start. Phase One alone will have 32 miles (51km) of tunnels, over 500 bridges (under and over) and more than 50 viaducts measuring about nine miles in total length.
Perhaps the most complex series of viaducts will be outside Birmingham, where the line crosses the M6 and splits into two with a spur into the city centre. At 5.9 miles long, the ‘Delta Junction’ consists of seven bridges and viaducts spanning three railway lines, eight roads, five rivers and canals and the motorway.
And of course, tying these megastructures together will be more than 44 miles’ worth of cuttings and 38 miles of embankments carrying the line through the landscape. The deepest cutting – at Lower Thorpe – will be 30.5m deep, while the longest embankment will be 1.8 miles long.
Four major new stations will be built – including the iconic Birmingham Curzon Street – helping to boost the economy, unlocking tens of thousands of new jobs and homes where they are badly needed and helping to set new standards for accessibility and convenience for the travelling public.
The scale of Phase One is immense, but we’ve got an incredible team of world-leading engineers, project managers and designers in place, working with our experienced contractors – all determined to make HS2 a success.
And that’s why I’m pleased to introduce this new quarterly supplement from Modern Railways, which will follow our progress as we build the first major new railway north of London in more than a century.
Modern Railways promises to document all the major milestones on our journey to deliver this exciting and ambitious project… and that’s exciting, because it’s not every day that we build a new railway.