Future of HS2 in the balance

By Mike Hayes29 January 2020

HS2 pic

HS2 would significantly reduce journey times between London and the north of England

A report looking into the UK’s High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project has reportedly estimated the cost of its completion at around £106 billion (€126 billion).

The figure is almost double the original £56 billion estimate, given in 2015.

The initial plan was for phase one of the network to run from London to Birmingham. This element of the project was expected to open at the end of 2026. Two further routes running from Birmingham – one to Manchester, the other to Leeds – would make up phase two and were expected to be completed by 2032-33.

Ultimately, HS2 will link 21 destinations between the capital and the north of England, with trains travelling at speeds of up to 360km/h.

In August last year, Doug Oakervee, former chairman of the project, was asked by the UK Government to lead an inquiry into the project, following an admission from the new HS2 chairman, Allan Cook, that the project could not be delivered within the original budget.

At that time – just four months ago – it was estimated that up to £88 billion (€104 billion) might be required to complete the network.

The new figure of €126 billion will certainly increase the pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who must now decide whether to scrap HS2 completely – leaving the UK with what many consider to be a second-class rail network in the north of England.

The recommendation of the Oakervee review is that “on balance” the project should continue, although its continuation should be subject to “a number of qualifications”.

Primarily, the review felt that work on phase 2b – running from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds – should be suspended for six months, while investigations take place into the possibility of combining conventional and high-speed tracks.

The UK’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said, “I asked Doug Oakervee to do that report and said to him ‘Give me the facts, give me the data, give us the information so we can make a proper, informed decision’.”

He added, “I’ve always approached this from a relatively neutral point of view and that information will help to inform a decision that is best for the whole country.”

As previously reported by Construction Europe, the CEOs of a number of construction companies working on HS2 – including Balfour Beatty, Skanska and Morgan Sindall – wrote to the Prime Minister, describing the damage that would be done to the UK construction industry, if the decision was made to scrap the mega-project altogether.

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