Government to unveil new high-speed rail route

The preferred route for the government’s £17bn high-speed rail line, which promises to whisk passengers from London to Birmingham in just over half an hour, is to be revealed later today.

The scheme is backed by Conservatives and many business leaders who say it will boost the economy outside of London, reduce overcrowding on the rail network, and help cut carbon emissions from short-haul flights and road transport.

However, campaigners opposed to the high-speed line, dubbed HS2, claim that running 200mph-plus trains through picturesque parts of the Chilterns and south Midlands, including many Conservative constituencies, could have devastating effects on the countryside and local communities.

Transport secretary Philip Hammond signalled yesterday that the government was listening to concerns from local residents’ and Tory MPs’, telling BBC radio that the route had been altered.

“The route we publish tomorrow is our preferred route and will be changed from the original route the (previous) government proposed,” Hammond said. “Not to a completely different corridor but small changes in the alignment of the route so that it goes further away from sensitive areas, making it deeper in many places so that it is buried in cuttings rather than on the surface.”

Around half the route is expected to have been “refined” by putting tracks in deeper cuttings and building tunnels to help mitigate some of the worst environmental effects.

However, Hammond insisted that the environmental impact of the scheme had been over-played.

“I believe there is some complete misinformation out there about the extent of the impact of the railway and when people understand precisely what is being proposed, I think many of them will realise that the impact will be far less than they have been led to believe,” he said.

Hammond is also expected to announce a multi-million pound compensation scheme for homes directly affected by the project, while stressing the government is willing to face down opposition to the proposals.

“High-speed rail is in the national interest and will create huge economic benefits for our great cities in the Midlands and the north,” he said. “It will bring Britain closer together and help secure our prosperity in the 21st century.”

Work on the London to Birmingham route is due to start in 2015 and finish in 2026. The government plans to extend the railway north of Birmingham in a Y shape to reach northern England and Scotland, which could see costs rise to around £33bn.

Spain is currently leading the way in terms of European high-speed rail and yesterday opened a 438km (272 mile) route between the Spanish capital and the Mediterranean port of Valencia, bringing its total high-speed rail network to 2,056km (1,278 miles).

The network has been credited with slashing the number of domestic flights, leading to significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

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