Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has launched the first permanent construction work at a HS2 station.
The Cabinet minister visited Old Oak Common, west London, which will be the UK’s largest railway station built in a single stage.
Preparatory work had already taken place at the 32-acre site, but construction of a 1.1-mile-long underground wall as part of the shell around six HS2 platforms began when Mr Shapps gave the signal for digging to begin on Wednesday.
HS2 was a major issue in last week’s shock by-election defeat for the Tories in Chesham and Amersham.
Asked if he was concerned whether there is enough public support for the project, Mr Shapps told the PA news agency: “I think of the Victorians 150, 170 years ago.
“They were building the West Coast and East Coast Main Lines. We’ve carried on using them to this day.
“They were getting very, very full up. I’ve no doubt at all that over the decades and centuries that follow, we’ll be pleased that this generation did something for the future.”
Old Oak Common, which will feature a roof covering the area of more than three football pitches, is expected to be completed between 2029 and 2033.
HS2 Ltd said the “super hub” station will offer “unrivalled connectivity”, with six HS2 platforms for services to the Midlands and the North, four Crossrail platforms, and four mainline rail platforms served by trains to and from the South West and South Wales.
HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston said the station will be “pivotal”.
He went on: “You’ve got Stratford in the east, Clapham Junction in the south.
“Then you’ll have Old Oak Common in the west. It will be a real anchor point for the South East’s rail system.”
The Financial Times reported on Monday that HS2’s costs have jumped by another £1.7 billion in the past year as the coronavirus pandemic adds further pressure to the project.
Mr Thurston insisted that figure was “not true”, but admitted the virus crisis is one of several “cost pressures” the project is facing.
He went on: “We did pause our sites temporarily, but we’ve now got in excess of 300 sites open so let’s hope that we’ve seen the worst of it.”
The scheme’s £44.6 billion budget for phase one between London and Birmingham includes £5.6 billion of contingency funds.
A Department for Transport spokesman said final assessments of the impact of the pandemic “have not been made”.