This morning, the Government confirmed the winners of major construction contracts worth £6.6 billion for the high-speed railway project. UK companies Carillion and Balfour Beatty are among the firms who will build the route between London and Birmingham.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling will also confirm the final routes of the Manchester and Leeds branches of the railway today. The Department for Transport said the first construction contracts will support 16,000 jobs and the railway will reach Birmingham by 2026.
The announcements are “welcome steps to HS2 finally becoming a reality”, said IMechE’s Philippa Oldham. HS2 will “remove the bottlenecks” in the UK’s transport infrastructure by increasing capacity and bridging the North-South divide, she said. The high-speed line will also allow more room on the rest of the network for slower, more frequently-stopping services and freight trains, she added.
“Commitment to HS2 provides UK engineering industries with greater certainty, which is vital to encouraging companies to invest in future engineering and technical skills,” she said. “Today’s announcement builds on the good work started by Crossrail with the UK being recognised as a world leader in the development and delivery of railway technology. Over 95% of Crossrail’s budget to date has been won by UK-based businesses – and this is something which could and should be replicated in HS2.”
The Government claims HS2 could return more than £2 for every £1 invested, and its supporters hope the railway will rebalance the economy from London to the connected cities.
However, the long-running project has faced significant criticism from campaign groups like Stop HS2 and HS2 Action Alliance. Critics say the £56 billion budget could be spent elsewhere, and claim the railway will destroy pristine parts of the countryside.
“As with all major infrastructure projects, there are diverse and complicated local issues that need to be managed in order to make these projects a reality,” said Oldham to Professional Engineering. “It is important, for example, that the Government properly reimburses homeowners whose property has or will be affected by the project. However, the benefits to HS2 UK-wide are huge ― supporting thousands of jobs, boosting productivity, easing congestion and providing confidence for industry to invest in future skills.”
The railway will also transport more freight by electric rail, she said, freeing up space on roads and generating fewer CO2 and other particulate emissions.
Major building work is set to start on the railway next year. It is due to open in December 2026.