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18 November 2021

How the UK trails behind Europe for high-speed rail

Less than one per cent of the UK’s rail network is high-speed.

By Aisha Majid

Just 0.7 per cent (113km – 70 miles) of the 16,346 km of railway line in use in the UK is high-speed, according to New Statesman analysis of data from the International Union of Railways and the European Commission. 

In Spain, where national operator Renfe’s high-speed AVE trains connect large parts of the country, 22 per cent (3,487km) of the rail network is high-speed – the longest length of high-speed rail in Europe. A significant proportion of Finland (19 per cent), France (10 per cent) and Sweden’s (8 per cent) rail network is also high-speed. 


Despite the dearth of high-speed rail infrastructure in the UK, the government today said it would be dropping part of the proposed HS2 network. The new lines were meant to connect London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, but the eastern leg to Leeds will no longer go ahead. Plans for a high-speed east-west line linking Manchester to Leeds have also been abandoned. HS2’s eastern leg would have reduced the journey time from Birmingham to Leeds from almost two hours currently to less than one hour. 

Instead the government has proposed a rail improvement plan for the country’s north and Midlands which includes upgrades and some new infrastructure, including a mass transit system in the Leeds area. 

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