High-speed rail plan for London-Manchester route

The British government on Monday unveiled plans to extend a controversial high-speed rail network to the north of England in a move that Prime Minister David Cameron said would boost the stagnant economy.

But the government faces criticism from rural communities angry that the route will pass through picturesque countryside.

The HS2 line, already planned to link London to Birmingham in central England, will be extended to Manchester and Leeds by 2033, slashing journey times in half in a move the government says will boost the regional economies.

Plans for a spur from central London to Heathrow Airport, one of the world's busiest air hubs, have been put on hold pending a review of future airport capacity in Britain.

Officials say the £32.7 billion ($A49.1 billion) HS2 project will create at least 100,000 jobs and relieve congestion on the existing rail network and the roads.

The Department for Transport said the journey from Manchester to Birmingham would be reduced to 41 minutes and the trip from Manchester to London would be cut to one hour eight minutes, around half the current duration.

Leeds, a key business centre in northern England, would be 57 minutes away from Birmingham compared to nearly two hours today, and one hour 22 minutes away from London -- almost an hour faster than now.

Cameron said: "Linking communities and businesses across the country and shrinking the distances between our greatest cities, High Speed Rail is an engine for growth that will help to drive regional regeneration and invigorate our regional economies.

"It is vital that we get on board the high-speed revolution."

The northern extension will pass through the Tatton constituency in northwest England of finance minister George Osborne, who also insisted the project would boost the economy.

"As a country you have got to make those long-term choices," he said.

"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.

"You have got to commit to these projects even though they take many years."

But his fellow Conservative lawmaker Cheryl Gillan, whose Buckinghamshire constituency also lies on HS2's proposed route, said the lives of thousands of people would be "blighted" by the project.

The preferred route of phase two will go north from Birmingham to five stops at Manchester, Manchester Airport, Toton in the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds.

More than 70 campaign groups oppose HS2. One, Stop HS2, argues that far from benefiting the north and Midlands, the scheme will in fact bring more advantages to London.

Penny Gaines, chairwoman of Stop HS2, told the BBC: "We are firmly of the opinion that the whole HS2 project is fundamentally flawed.

"It should be cancelled as soon as possible so that we can concentrate on developing the transport infrastructure that will bring more benefits to more people than a fast train for fat cats."

AFP

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