By Daniel Hunter

A new report by Network Rail and Atkins says the alternative to a new HS2 high speed rail link would see 14 years of weekend route closures and longer journeys.

The government-commissioned report also says upgrading existing rail lines would severely affect the East Coast, Midland and West Coast mainlines.

It says that would double travel times between Leeds and London. The study will inform the government's updated business case for HS2, expected to be published this week.

HS2, which is designed to shorten journey times between London and the Midlands and the north of England, has attracted stiff opposition from some quarters because of doubts that the cost - last estimated at £42.6bn - will bring sufficient benefit.

A government source said: "We need to do something because our railways are nearly full, but the alternative to HS2 is a patch and mend job that would cause 14 years of gridlock, hellish journeys and rail replacement buses.

"The three main routes to the north would be crippled and the economy would be damaged."

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