Posted 3rd September 2019 | 10 Comments

HS2 to cost more and take longer

THE government has admitted that HS2 will cost a lot more than the official budget of £55.7 billion for all phases, which ministers were still promising was correct only a few weeks ago.

In a written statement to Parliament, transport secretary Grant Shapps has also said the project will take longer to complete, with high speed trains possibly not reaching Manchester or Leeds before 2040.

The revelation has justified reports in recent weeks that the budget was not going to be enough, and that the government knew as long ago as 2016 that costs were starting to exceed official estimates.

Grant Shapps told MPs: 'The chairman of HS2 [Allan Cook] does not believe that the current scheme design can be delivered within the budget of £55.7 billion, set in 2015 prices. Instead he estimates that the current scheme requires a total budget -- including contingency -- in the range of £72 to £78 billion, again in 2015 prices.

'Regarding schedule, the Chairman does not believe the current schedule of 2026 for initial services on Phase One is realistic. In line with lessons from other major transport infrastructure projects, his advice proposes a range of dates for the start of service. He recommends 2028 to 2031 for Phase One -- with a staged opening, starting with initial services between London Old Oak Common and Birmingham Curzon Street, followed by services to and from London Euston later. He expects Phase 2b, the full high-speed line to Manchester and Leeds, to open between 2035 and 2040.

'He has also suggested that Phase 2a, West Midlands to Crewe, could be delivered to the same timetable as Phase 1, subject to Parliamentary approval. Finally, he is of the view that the benefits of the current scheme are substantially undervalued.'

At the same time the government has published a 'stocktake' of the project from chairman Allan Cook, which says that 'The original plans did not take sufficient account of the compound effect of building a high-speed line through a more densely populated country with more difficult topography than elsewhere – and doing so whilst complying with higher environmental standards.

'Equally, the existing cost/benefit model, which was designed for smaller scale schemes, has proved inadequate in capturing the full transformational effect of HS2, particularly on changing land values.'

The Prime Minister launched an official review of the scheme on 21 August, led by former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee and frequent HS2 critic Lord Berkeley. This will recommend later this year 'whether and how HS2 should proceed'.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: 'Successive Conservative transport ministers have shown themselves to be utterly incompetent and unable to oversee the finances and governance of HS2, among other infrastructure projects.

'This government has misled both Parliament and the public about the cost of HS2. People need to have confidence in the project, so this delay is bad news for the UK transport system as a whole and the north of England in particular.'

Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West Jane Brophy said: 'The Tories’ long-term indecision and incompetence was always going to cost taxpayers and fail Northerners the most.

'The Liberal Democrats have always been absolutely clear that HS2 construction should have started in the North.'

The Taxpayers' Alliance has consistently opposed the scheme. TA spokesman Harry Fone said: 'This is a welcome case of government coming clean with taxpayers about the true costs of the hated HS2.

'The problems facing the project are an open secret, with massive overruns and official estimates drifting ever upwards, towards our original estimate of around £90 billion. Overpaid middle management have been unable to keep costs under control, and a bloated PR budget has not helped HS2 Ltd cover their tracks.

'As sceptics have suspected all along, HS2 is dangerously close to coming off the rails. The recent review must now ask difficult questions about whether to throw good money after bad and press ahead or not.'

However, the Railway Industry Association insisted that HS2 is still 'vital'.

Chief executive Darren Caplan said: 'Despite today’s news that HS2 Phase 1 may not be completed until 2028/31 and the update on costs, it is important to remember the project remains vital for the UK, its economy, cities and regional communities, and as shown by chairman Alan Cook's Stocktake, the benefits have been substantially undervalued. It will still more than pay for itself.'

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • M Wood, Sheffield

    The whole route should be reassessed ie in my opinion with the main spine of the route taking a more industrial 4 track formation along the M1 corridor to Sth York’s with a Jct in the Sth Pennines to facilitate NPR, all other major towns and cities should have their classic lines substantially up graded to connect to central spine and NPR, people require city Centre’s and hate having to change all new stations should be through, the ECML north of York is far easier to modify than WCML and topography more forgiving to cater for Scottish services.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Yes, the justification for HS2 is predominantly to give capacity relief ; as far as the WCML south of Rugby is concerned, though, a conventional speed ( 140 mph , given a cab signalling installation ) line based largely on the ex - Great Central formation could perform this function , at a much lower construction cost.

    A true High Speed line ( 200 mph ?) only makes sense in this country for journeys over about 240 miles. The French LGV's , Japanese Shinkansen, etc. all target these sort of distances.

  • Alan Saddington, Canvey Island

    H S 2 is not about saving minutes on a journey it`s about capacity. Both WCML and ECML are nearly full and we would all like to see more freight on our rails but there is not the space to do so. Most of our railways are over 150 years old so H S 2 is investing in our future and needs to be built. Would the objectors like to have a motorway built.

  • Chris Reynell, Longstock

    Apparently the total revised cost of the third runway at Heathrow is similar to the latest HS2 figures.

  • A Munro, Redhill

    Opportunity cost. Everyone needs to remember these escalating costs at HS2 is our money it’s our cancer drugs unfunded by NICE but funded by every other European country after EMA approval, it’s our elderly not getting world leading social and end of life care such as for dementia, it’s our defence industry not being able to protect itself against new threats.

    NPR wasn’t on the agenda when HS2 was being designed, but now it is. This changes the order of what we should build first, so re-order the build to save money initially, combining elements of both schemes to achieve the majority of the goals.

    Complete HS2 Western Leg to Manchester + core NPR from Manchester to Leeds, but delay the eastern HS2 leg.

    Assuming £80bn for the full 581km HS2 = £137m/km.

    The core 40 mile NPR Manchester-Bradford-Leeds line would be the initial alternative for the eastern leg of HS2 costing over £5bn (2014 est), probably £8bn, so delaying the need to build the 115 mile eastern leg (approx £25bn if HS2 costs £137m/km).

    Total Cost = £80bn -£25bn + £8bn = £63bn

    London-Leeds journey time of 1h35m [1h08m (HS2 London to Manchester) + 2mins dwell time in Manchester + 0h25m (NPR Manchester to Leeds)].

    The UK needs at least one HS2 complete leg finished early (not delayed until 2040), as it then fully reduces the journey times to Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh - the furthest away cities benefit most.

    Then decide what would be the best approach; upgrading the MML & ECML or construct something like the The arguments against upgrading an operating railway line will always remain, even when capacity is added by one leg of HS2, but at least then the UK will have options.

    Sadly, this project is in crisis but we need high speed rail built now, not delayed another 7 years until 2040 - if that's the case we probably would be better building a Maglev system in stages. Unless the UK is immediately going to have a structural change in efficiency on building new infrastructure we will continue to be significantly more expensive than other nations at building - we're either pants at the process or the southern part of HS2 does genuinely suffer from property prices higher than other countries and ground conditions that are "unique". I can only just about agree on these excuses as the costs per km for HS2 are 50% more than the cost to build the high speed line 78km through the mountains in a tunnel from Florence to Bologna.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Anything new will always find problems such as unknown underground streams. That problem bedevilled the Severn Railway Tunnel (1873 - 86) and incidentally the new road underpass of the Reading Viaduct opened finally this year. All Engineers know that. Which is why estimates should have a decent margin for over-runs and over-spends. But it is obvious that either Politicians are not told the truth about probable costs or they deliberately hide them until is too late to do anything about it. (eg Crossrail)

  • Allan Ralston, Warrington

    When quoting the Taxpayers' Alliance you should make it clear that they are a far right lobby group financed by billionaire tax exiles and alt right American lobbies. They are not in any way representative of actual tax payers and have a different agenda to serious transport groups.

  • Andrew Gwilt, Benfleet Essex

    Which is why HS2 could cost up to £22billion more and over budget. If delays are to continue. Which is why it’s happening with Crossrail. That is also been delayed and also over budget costing well over £100millions to get it completed. Which it won’t be completed until between October 2020-March 2021. As the completion deadline of December 2019 has been extended.

  • Graham Wood, swindon

    It does not matter which end you start at, you cannot run a service until any line is complete.
    Who will wish to travel to Old Oak Common? A few nostalgic spotters?

  • Jez Milton, Manchester

    Closer inspection of the Cook report shows that with the revised delivery schedule, the first HS2 services would still begin in Dec 2026, though be limited to 3 trains per hour, Old Oak to Bham. A trial service, to bed things in. Makes excellent sense, of course.

    The media - who are generally wedded as individuals to polluting cars and flights - will never give rail investment a fair crack of the whip. Those of us committed to rail should be putting the boot in on the anti-HS2 mob.