Full steam ahead for high-speed rail

PM risks confrontation with MPs after backing new link between London and Birmingham

A £32bn high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham that would cut through some of Britain's most prized countryside and infuriate Conservative MPs is set to be approved by the Transport Secretary.

Justine Greening's decision comes after a study of the alternatives concluded they would fail to reduce overcrowding on trains and would condemn passengers to years of engineering work and delays.

She is expected to confirm within days that the Government is pressing ahead with the scheme despite entrenched opposition among MPs and councils in the Home Counties to the route, which slices through the Chilterns.

Under the plans, the first stage of the HS2 route would be built by 2026, cutting travel times between London and Birmingham to 49 minutes – 23 minutes less than the current quickest journey.

Spurs to the North-west and Yorkshire would be built by 2032-33 in the second phase of the scheme, eventually bringing Manchester and Leeds within 80 minutes of the capital.

Opponents, including 18 local authorities, have argued that the Government has not made the business case for the project and warned that it will cause severe environment damage. They have called for the existing West Coast Main Line to be upgraded to provide extra capacity for passengers and set out two detailed proposals for how that could be achieved.

But, in a severe setback for the campaigners, the Department for Transport (DfT) last night disclosed that an analysis by Network Rail of the proposed alternatives has concluded they are deeply flawed. Ms Greening is understood to share its conclusions and to be planning to announce her decision soon after the Commons returns from its Christmas break on Tuesday.

A DfT source said Network Rail had conducted a "sober and independent analysis" of the alternatives to HS2 and concluded that "patchwork upgrades to the existing rail network simply will not resolve the huge capacity challenges we face". The source added: "Our plans for a new high-speed rail network would increase hugely the number of seats for passengers available on Britain's inter-city railways, as well as freeing up space on railways for more trains to operate – and all with minimal disruption to the existing railway."

Ms Greening had given fresh hope to HS2's critics when she ordered a fresh look at the scheme after becoming Transport Secretary in October. Her predecessor, Philip Hammond, was an enthusiastic advocate of the project, describing its opponents as "mainly nimbys".

Ms Greening's decision will infuriate many Tory MPs, including other ministers. Opponents of HS2 include Cheryl Gillan, the Welsh Secretary, Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, and David Lidington, the Europe minister, as well as the Speaker, John Bercow. Some of Ms Gillan's colleagues believe she may resign in protest. By contrast Tory MPs and civic leaders in the North of England have argued it is essential for stimulating growth.

Ms Greening could try to sweeten the pill by offering fresh modifications to the route. She is considering spending £500m to build a 1.5-mile tunnel under the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire.

The conclusions emerged as the Government faced renewed calls to press ahead with the link in letters from economists, business leaders and union chiefs. The economists argued the project would help to create up to one million jobs and give a boost to the building industry.

Martin Tett, the chairman of 51m, an alliance of 18 local authorities opposed to HS2, said: "We're absolutely confident our proposals would meet all of the capacity requirements with minimal disruption much earlier than HS2 would and at a far lower cost."

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Extras
indybest
News
i100... and no one notices
Arts and Entertainment
Friends reunited: Julian Ovenden, Richard Cant and Matt Bardock in rehearsals for the Donmar revival of 'My Night
with Reg'
theatrePoignancy of Kevin Elyot's play being revived just after his death
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobThe successful ...

Business Analyst (Systems/ Incident Analyst)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Business Analyst r...

SAP GRC Architect / Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently looking for a PERMANENT S...

Day In a Page

Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor