Ready to depart: But will the HS2 express be derailed before it arrives?

The Transport Secretary has given the official go-ahead for HS2, the controversial high-speed project that could transform British rail travel. But objectors are still not ready to concede defeat

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 project after months of delay and opposition.

Click HERE to view graphic

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 before work begins on Britain's biggest railway engineering project since the late 19th century.

Entrenched opposition also remains on the Conservative backbenches, with MPs queuing up to challenge her over the business case for HS2, as well as its huge cost and damage to the landscape.

But 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.

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 the Cabinet over the plans.

Several other ministers, including the Attorney General Dominic Grieve and the Europe Minister David Lidington, had also come out against the original version of the scheme.

Ms Greening's modifications appear to have headed off the immediate threat of resignations.

Last night Ms Gillan gave a guarded welcome to the moves. She said: "We are still, relative to the timescales for the project, at the beginning of the process. I welcome the further steps that have been taken to mitigate the impact on Chesham and Amersham."

Under the revised plans, 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.

Ms Greening envisages 400 metre-long trains carrying up to 1,100 passengers covering the distance between London and Birmingham in 45 minutes from 2026. The next phase of the Y-shaped network would extend the link to Manchester and Leeds by 2033. The high-speed trains would then transfer to existing tracks to reach cities such as Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Legislation for the first phase of HS2, which is being supported by Labour, will be introduced in Parliament next year. It will run between a rebuilt Euston station and a new station in Birmingham city centre. A connection to HS1, the London to Channel Tunnel high-speed link, will also be constructed.

Opponents last night said they were considering a legal challenge to the scheme. Martin Tett, chairman of the 51m alliance of councils challenging the scheme, said: "This is an immensely bad decision for Britain. At a time of national austerity with rising unemployment and a massive deficit, how can spending more than £32 billion on a rail line be justified? Virtually all objective analysts have condemned this project."

The Countryside Alliance predicted details of court action to block the plans would emerge within days. A spokesman said: "We are not at all happy with the way that this has been consulted upon and generally handled. I'm certain that the people that live along the line are going to fight tooth and nail to stop this happening."

Ms Greening faced sustained criticism from Tory colleagues. Andrea Leadsom, MP for South Northamptonshire, said many of her constituents' communities would be "blighted". Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe, suggested the entire route through the Chilterns should have been underground.

The line in numbers

£16.3bn Budgeted cost of line from London to Birmingham.

£32.7bn Ultimate projected cost, with branches to Leeds and Manchester (by 2032-33).

250mph Top speed of new trains.

49 minutes Reduction in London to Birmingham journey time.

40,000 New jobs expected to be generated by the project.

2026 Scheduled completion date for first stage of project.

£27bn Projected ticket revenues over next 30 years.

400 Houses due to be demolished to make way for HS2 line.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Software Development Project Manager - Kingston Upon Thames

£55000 - £60000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Experienced Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders