Nov 12 - Few dispute that Britain's creaking rail network needs modernising. The government's planning High Speed 2, connecting London with cities in central and northern England, saying it will bring economic benefits. As Joanna Partridge reports, high-profile business groups have spoken out against the plan. And as the predicted costs spiral, the plan is proving highly contentious. Joanna Partridge reports
Where the railways were invented. But Britain's not running to schedule when it comes to modern high speed trains. France has long had the TGV, while China's recently built thousands of kilometres of high speed track. But UK politicans have a plan - and its name is HS2. The high speed network is designed to cut journey times between the capital and other main cities. I'll be built in 2 stages - first London to Birmingham by 2026 - and then later to the northern hubs of Manchester and Leeds. The government says the project - expected to cost around £50 billion - will create thousands of jobs, while modernising the network and bringing business to different cities. Beth West is Commercial Director of HS2. SOUNDBITE: Beth West, Commercial Director HS2, saying (English): "Rail is the most environmentally-friendly of our transport modes and moving people around the country, it's really critical to that growing economy. And if we want to facilitate business and compete internationally, we need to have the ways for people to get around the country." Firms based along the rail route are hoping to reap some rewards. Coen, based in Birmingham, supplies workers to the construction industry. Managing Director Paul Little believes many of their skills could be used in new railway stations on the HS2 line. SOUNDBITE: Paul Little, Managing Director, Coen, saying (English): "We've been growing in the housing market, we've been growing in retrofit insulation sectors, some of those are going better than others and in order to keep that growth going, we're looking to move into different sectors and an investment project like HS2 represents a massive opportunity for us." Few dispute Britain's railways need modernising. The network's the oldest in Europe - and can't cope with the number of passengers. But opposition to the project is growing. And several influential business groups say it's just not worth it. Richard Houghton is from HS2 Action Alliance. SOUNDBITE: Richard Houghton, Spokesman, HS2 Action Alliance, saying (English): "This is a political project not a transport project, as a result the benefits have been made up from the beginning. HS2 by its very nature doesn't stop anywhere between London and Birmingham, or Birmingham and Manchester. So it's not going to help those people travelling on suburban commuter routes, that are running at over 100% overcapacity. So we'd like to see a fraction of the £50 billion that they're going to spend on a single line for HS2 spent on improving suburban commuter routes, taking out pinch points, extending platforms." Even if HS2 does go some way to solving the UK's rail problems, passengers will have a long wait. Construction isn't due to begin until 2017.