The government is launching a review of HS2 – a high-speed rail link – to determine if the project will be “go or no-go” by the end of the year, UK transport secretary Grant Shapps has said.
The project is an attempt to better link the UK capital, London - in the south, with Birmingham and Manchester to the north of the country using trains that will travel up to 400km/h.
Billions have already been spent on the scheme and HS2’s Chief Executive, Mark Thurston, fully believes in the project saying, “HS2 is a hugely important project that will leave a significant economic legacy here in the UK, and it is imperative that we have the best people in place to deliver our ambitions.”
Shapps, however, has refused to rule out scrapping the project entirely.
The review will be led by Douglas Oakervee, a former chair of Crossrail and HS2 itself who will receive guidance from civil engineer Lord Berkeley, formerly known as Tony Gueterbock during the period of his involvement in the construction of the Channel Tunnel.
Phase one of the development between London and Birmingham is due to open at the end of 2026, with the second phase to Leeds and Manchester scheduled for completion by 2032-33.
The benefits of HS2 could see journey times from London to Manchester (around 320km by road and over four hours travel time) be reduced to around 50 minutes. The existing rail infrastructure is capable of transporting passengers between the two cities within an hour and a half.
The review team will determine whether the benefits are worth the already increasing budget estimates.
The current budget for the project is £55.7 billion (€61.1 billion), which supposedly included contingency funding. The original budget was £32.7 billion (€35.9 billion) when initially proposed. Around £7.4 billion (€8.1 billion) has been spent on the project so far.
This July, the current project chairman for HS2 suggested that the budget may need to allow for an additional £30 billion (€33.1 billion).
Concerning the current investment in the project, Shapps said, “Just because you’ve spent a lot of money on something does not mean you should plough more and more money into it.”
This potential shutdown of operations is undoubtedly not good news for the construction companies vying for contracts and those already involved in the project.
In February of this year, HS2 awarded contracts to joint ventures (JV) between Mace and Dragados and to Balfour Beatty and Vinci which was to create 4,000 jobs within London.
In total it was hoped that HS2 would be able to deliver, at its peak, as many as 65,000 jobs and create 25,500 new homes.