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U.K. Sets Out Plans for High-Speed Rail to the North

The British government said it will go ahead with plans to build the second phase of a high-speed rail line that will run from London through Birmingham in central England to cities such as Manchester and Leeds.

The line, known as High Speed 2, will be integrated with the existing rail network and will cut journey times and expand capacity, the Department of Transport said in a statement today. The government is bringing forward a public consultation on the proposed route by a year to start in 2013. The London-to-Birmingham route was set last year.

“Our rail services are overcrowded,” Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told BBC Radio 4 in London today. “Looking at this route you’ll know you’re going to upset a number of people. This is the first railway to be built north of London for 120 years.”

Employers’ groups and the opposition Labour Party are calling on the government to speed up capital spending projects to give the economy a boost as it heads for its first triple-dip recession on record. The project faces opposition from conservationists and lawmakers mostly in the governing Conservative Party who say the expansion is unnecessary and will scar the natural landscape.

‘Increased Demand’

“HS2 cannot be built in isolation, so we need sustained, additional capital investment in existing road and rail networks to meet increased demand,” John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said in an e-mailed statement. “Ministers must work hard to secure real consensus on the route, to avoid the project being hit by years of delays.”

The final route for the 211-mile (338-kilometer) northern phase will be decided by the end of 2014, the government said. The line will branch off in a Y-shape from the Birmingham-to-London line.

The government said today that it wants the project to be completed ahead of a previous 2032 deadline. About 8,000 jobs will be created in Birmingham alone. Provincial cities such as Leeds, Sheffield and will be connected with journey times reduced to as little as 20 minutes between them.

“There is no excuse for further delays,” Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT rail workers’ union, said in an e-mailed statement. “While RMT welcomes any belated investment and development we must not forget that it is decades of political inertia that have left Britain’s railways in the slow lane.”

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