Phase 2b comprises the 82km section of the western branch from Crewe to Manchester Piccadilly and a junction with the West Coast Main Line (WCML) near Wigan, together with the 198km eastern branch from Lichfield (north of Birmingham) to Leeds and a junction with the East Coast Main Line (ECML) near York.

Several amendments have been made to the route following public consultation. On the western branch, the proposed depot at Golborne near Wigan will be moved to a site north of Crewe, while the approach to Manchester Piccadilly station will be moved 370m eastwards with the northern tunnel portal in Ardwick. Part of the alignment near Northwich will also be moved 800m to the west.

On the eastern branch the alterations are more extensive. At the southern end of the eastern leg, the alignment around the town of Measham will be revised and the line will follow the A42 highway near East Midlands Airport to negate the construction of tunnel beneath the airport. On the southern approach to East Midlands Parkway station between Derby and Nottingham, the alignment through the town of Long Eaton will be revised to reduce impacts on existing rail and road infrastructure.

The most significant change to the route will be in South Yorkshire, where the government has abandoned proposals for a park-and-ride station near Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre in favour of routing services through Sheffield Midland station. This is in line with recommendations of a report into route options for the South Yorkshire leg of the line, which was published by the project’s developer HS2 Ltd in July.

A public consultation will be carried out on the proposed alterations to the South Yorkshire alignment before a final decision is made on the routing of this section of the line next year.

The 190km first phase of HS2 from London Euston to Birmingham Curzon Street and a junction with the West Coast Main Line near Lichfield is due to be completed in 2026, while the 69km Phase 2a from Lichfield to Crewe is scheduled to open in 2027. Both the eastern and western branches of Phase 2b are due to open in 2033.

Phase 1 contracts awarded

Grayling also confirmed on November 15 that HS2 Ltd has awarded three contracts with a total value of up to £900m for enabling works on Phase 1. The scope of the contracts includes archaeological investigations, site clearance, and setting up construction compounds in readiness for the start of major civil engineering works.

The joint ventures selected for the three contracts are:
- Area South - CS JV (Costain Group, Skanska Construction UK)
- Area Central - Fusion JV (Morgan Sindall, BAM Nuttall, Ferrovial Agroman (UK)), and
- Area North: LM JV (Laing O’Rourke Construction, J Murphy & Sons).

Construction will begin on Phase 1 next year.