Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk
- A last minute change could increase the length of an underground alignment on the UK's proposed high-speed rail route between London and Birmingham.
- Two separate tunnels of 1.25km and 9.5km could be linked to form one underground stretch of 13.2km through the Chiltern Hills to protect an area of natural beauty west of Amersham in Buckinghamshire.
- The current route proposal – which was developed in detail by Arup as the basis for the Government and HS2's public consultation - is for excavation of a 2.4km above-ground cutting to link the entrance portals of the Little Missenden and Amersham tunnels, in an area that is considered to be one of outstanding natural beauty (Fig 1).
Fig 1. Realignment would take underground a short section of open cut between two proposed tunnels to create one 13.2km long underground alignment through the Chiltern hills
- The promised announcement of the preferred route for the High-Speed 2 (HS2) rail project before the end of 2011 is now deferred until January 2012 to allow time to investigate the proposed realignment.
- Reportedly an extra £500 million has been found from within government budgets to fund the extra tunneling work required.
- In other developments, the Scottish Government announced as part of its budget that it would be willing in the long term to fund its section of the overall scheme north of the border if the UK Department of Transport made guarantees that it would extend HS2 to the England-Scotland border.
- Anti HS2 campaigners in the Chiltern hills area claim that engineers told them unofficially during a consultation meeting that an extended single tunnel option was considered as part of the original route plan, but rejected.
Proposed eventual route of HS2
- Critics argue that the sudden apparent change of heart regarding the possible new tunnel alignment in the Chilterns is a way of pacifying very strong local opposition in an area that lies within the heartland of the Coalition's Conservative Party support base.
- On Tuesday (December 6), the UK's Transport Secretary Justine Greening said: "I expect to make an announcement on the subject of high speed rail in January."
- After a public consultation process on the route ended in July, the Government had previously said it would make public its decisions in Parliament this month.
- Last week the British Government pledged its continuing support for the estimated £32 billion HS2 project, and announced its intention to take the approval process of Phase 1 of the project (London-Birmingham) through Parliament by October 2013, with construction scheduled to start in 2017.
- In November the Government started the process of finding a development partner for HS2 when it announced that four design consultants are on the shortlist for a £50-70 million management services contract to develop the scheme ready to take the approval process through Parliament.
- On that list are: Turner & Townsend, Mace, CH2M-Hill and Parsons Brinckerhoff. The results of a £160-200 million civil engineering and structural design services contract, for which prequalifiers have already submitted proposals, is expected to be announced once the winning management services team has reported its environmental assessment findings.
UK Budget commits to infrastructure projects - TunnelTalk, Dec 2011
Design partnership for UK High-Speed 2 - TunnelTalk, August 2011
High-speed rail pitch for the UK - TunnelTalk, August 2009
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