Britain’s high-speed rail network could be £20bn cheaper than billed and could pay for itself under radical plans being developed by a team of railway engineers, it is claimed.
Twenty one cities, and airports, including Heathrow, would be directly connected under the High Speed UK alternative, which it is claimed would benefit more people and be greener than the Government’s existing £55bn HS2 plans.
Proponents say the network could be built at no cost to taxpayers, by developing land around stations and raising local levies on landowners who benefit – a scheme pioneered by Victorian engineers who built London’s Metropolitan Line 150 years ago.
A similar “property and rail” scheme was used to pay for Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway and generates £1bn in annual profits for the Hong Kong government.
Colin Elliff, the engineering mastermind behind the plans, says: “It is not too late for the Government to replace HS2 with something cheaper, better connected and quicker to implement.”
At the heart of the fully costed plans, which were unveiled with maps and timetables in Birmingham on Saturday, is a super-fast line that would run beside the M1 from London to Scotland, via Leicester and Newcastle.
This north-south spine would be linked directly to a high-speed east-west route connecting Sheffield and Leeds to Manchester and Liverpool along the route of former Victorian tunnels beneath the Pennines.
The plans would also offer direct services to existing stations in cities including Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham and Derby via a circular link described as the “Midlands Ring”.
While the top line-speed would be 25mph slower than HS2’s goal of 248mph, it is claimed that more journeys would be faster overall and that more places could be reached. The engineers say there would be no need to tunnel out of London, or under the Chilterns, and that their high-speed trains would run to Edinburgh and Glasgow. There would also be a direct link to Heathrow.
The scheme has the backing of campaign group re:think HS2. Other supporters include Greg Mulholland, the Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West.
But the Government is pressing ahead – announcing last week that its line will be built as far as Crewe by 2027. The Department for Transport said: “The case for HS2 is crystal clear. It is crucial we press ahead on time and budget, and we remain on track to start construction in 2017.”
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