High-speed trains will now run in tunnels and cuttings for more than half of the distance between London and Birmingham, the Transport Secretary announced yesterday as she gave the final go-ahead for the £32.7bn HS2 scheme after months of delay.
Justine Greening announced a series of changes to the controversial scheme to avert a Tory rebellion and ministerial resignations over the impact of the route on picturesque Home Counties countryside.
But she still faces the prospect of a legal battle, and entrenched opposition on the Conservative backbenches, before work begins on Britain's biggest railway engineering project since the late 19th century.
Ms Greening insisted the scheme to run trains at 225mph between London and major cities in the Midlands and the North would provide a multi-billion pound boost to the British economy for decades to come.
Under the revised plans for the first 139 mile phase between the capital and Birmingham, 22.5 miles of the 140 mile route will be underground, eight miles more than originally envisaged. In total, 79 miles of the route will run underground or in cuttings, 40 miles on viaducts or embankments and 20 miles near surface level. Most of the route through the Chiltern Hills, designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, will go through tunnels.
Some of the additional tunnelling will take place in the Buckinghamshire constituency of Chesham and Amersham, represented by Cheryl Gillan, the Welsh Secretary, who had threatened to quit over the plans.
Opponents last night condemned the decision and said they were considering a legal challenge to the scheme.