Now that the Phase 2a bill has been signed into law, HS2 Ltd will be able to start environmental works along the route. Actual construction work is not expected to begin on this section until 2024.

In 2017 HS2 Ltd estimated the cost of works at £3.5bn. By the end of 2019, the official cost estimate for Phase 2a was a window between £4.5bn and £6.5bn, the National Audit Office reported.

The Phase 2a line will run from the northern end of Phase 1 at Fradley in the West Midlands to Crewe in Cheshire, freeing capacity on the West Coast mainline. There services will join the existing rail network to create direct services to places including Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Carlisle and Glasgow. Crewe is also the station for connections to North Wales and Shrewsbury.

The infrastructure will consist of 17 viaducts, 65 bridges, 36 embankments, 26 cuttings, two tunnels and one maintenance base.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “Whatever your view of this project, HS2 is now a reality – heading north, creating jobs and building a brighter future for our country. This vital project is at the heart of the government’s commitments to build back better from the pandemic, tackle the north-south divide and drive growth across the country.

“The signing of the Phase 2a bill into law is a historic milestone for this ambitious project, which is already creating and supporting thousands of jobs across the UK. I look forward to seeing spades in the ground to get this section built and deliver the benefits of high-speed rail to the north as swiftly as possible.”

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Councillor Craig Browne, deputy leader of Cheshire East Council, said: “This is a hugely important milestone in bringing high-speed rail to Crewe. HS2 is a strategically important project and will drive increased business confidence to invest in Crewe – creating opportunities to not only enhance the town, but also the wider borough, through the jobs, services and improved opportunities it can provide.

“We are committed to maximising the significant benefits the scheme will bring and it is more important than ever as we support our local economy to bounce back from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

“Working with our strategic partners, we are continuing to push forward with multiple projects to transform Crewe and the wider area, and ensure it is ready for HS2’s arrival, including our proposals for Crewe Hub station.

Transport for the North rail director Tim Wood said: “This is brilliant news. It has been a long time coming but HS2 has now been approved up to Crewe, which takes us to the doorstep of the north of England. The move will lock-in the creation of thousands of jobs in the years to come as we seek to build back better.

“It is essential now that the north gets certainty on the delivery of Phase 2b in full, on both sides of the Pennines, so that our communities are fully connected to the nation’s high-speed network. Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 are two parts of a whole and both are fundamental to the transformative change we need to release the North’s economic potential and cut carbon emissions.”

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