Construction is currently entering a period of transition that has led to a greater demand for housing, building materials online and a growing number of projects, both small and gargantuan.

A central facet of the government’s environmental plans is the construction of new, greener housing and the retrofitting of older buildings to meet this standard, and contractors both big and small are at the forefront of this change.

However, arguably the biggest construction project there has been in the UK has been underway for a year, is set to take 12 years to complete and has become both heralded and hated, to the point that the project took ten years to even receive approval.

This is the story of High Speed 2, the biggest construction project in the UK.


The Dawn Of High-Speed Rail

Whilst high-speed railways had been experimented on as early as 1899, it would take until several decades after the Second World War for these experiments to bear fruit, with the launch of the Tokaido Shinkansen (better known in the west as the “bullet train”) between Tokyo and Osaka in Japan.

With a train that averaged over 100mph in 1964, it created a revolution that saw revolutions such as the TGV in France, and by 1994 had a regular running line between Paris and the Channel Tunnel.

This led to the development of High Speed 1 between the Channel Tunnel, Fawkham Junction in Kent and finally London St Pancras, with construction running from 1996 to 2007.

With the success of HS1 despite some financial hurdles and the increased usage of a rail infrastructure that was predominantly built in the 19th century, proposals began as early as January 2009 for a second high-speed line.


The Decade Of Debate

High Speed 2 was originally intended to go between London, where High Speed 1 ended, and potentially reach as far as Edinburgh or Glasgow, but the global financial crisis and the political upheaval it caused in the UK in 2010 changed these plans considerably.

Once the dust had settled, a revised route had been settled that change the scope of the plan considerably. Instead of one route to Scotland, it would instead be a y-shaped line from London to Birmingham, before splitting off to reach Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield.

The debate surrounding the proposals was far-reaching, and led to several public reviews, debates and legal challenges, although once the final one of these by Chris Packham was rejected in July 2020, the HS2 project could go ahead.


Primary Construction Projects

The HS2 project, beyond the hundreds of miles of railway that would be laid down, would also lead to the construction of 64 miles of tunnels and four other major construction projects.

The tunnels are being constructed using purpose-built machines that bore through and line the wall with concrete segments, building 15 metres of tunnel per day for three years.

Beyond this, a new extension will be constructed at London Euston Station and three other new stations have been proposed:

  • Old Oak Common Station In West London, to serve as a rail interchange between HS1 and HS2,
  • Solihull Interchange near Birmingham, for connection to Birmingham Airport, and
  • Birmingham Curzon Street Station, the first intercity terminus station built in Britain since the reign of Queen Victoria.