Posted 10th March 2023 | 11 Comments

Warnings from railway industry in response to HS2 delay

Construction of HS2 north of Birmingham to Crewe is to be delayed by two years, in a bid to contain the costs of the project.

Transport secretary Mark Harper said £40 billion will be invested in ‘transformational’ transport schemes over the next two financial years around the country, which would help to ‘level up’ local communities and fulfill one of the Government’s five priorities to enlarge the economy.

He added that this includes continued investment in HS2 from London Euston to Manchester. However, ‘in recognition of inflationary pressures and to help balance the nation’s books, the next two years will be used to rephase construction and optimise future delivery of Phase 2a between Birmingham and Crewe so this is done in the most cost-effective way’.

He continued: ‘The Government will take the time to ensure an affordable and deliverable design at Euston, with a view to delivering the station alongside high-speed infrastructure to Manchester, while the High Speed Rail (Crewe-Manchester) Bill continues through Parliament.’

Before Mr Harper made his announcement, there had been speculation that he could have been set to announce changes to Phase 1, between Old Oak Common and Birmingham, but construction on this section will continue.

Transport for the North reacted by calling for the complete London to Manchester scheme to go ahead. Its chairman, the former transport secretary Lord McLoughlin, said: ‘This is a disappointing announcement. But I was reassured by the transport secretary that we are still getting HS2 to Manchester, and the recommitment to NPR [Northern Powerhouse Rail] is welcome.

‘However, it needs to be understood whether or not these cost savings can be realised while still achieving the same desired outcome and conditional outputs. The government needs to avoid being penny wise and pound foolish, as delays don’t necessarily lead to savings, and in fact can drive costs upwards.

‘Nevertheless, the political leaders of the North who sit on our Board have made their collective position very clear – we must transform the North by building both HS2 and NPR in full.’

The Railway Industry Association, which represents hundreds of companies in the supply chain, warned that delaying  the Birmingham-Crewe section could be an ‘inefficient use of taxpayers’ money.’

RIA chief executive Darren Caplan said: ‘Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced just last November that he was committed to delivering HS2. This was welcome news following the scrapping of both the Eastern Leg from Leeds to Birmingham, and the cancellation of the Golborne Link, to enable high speed trains to get from the Northern Leg of HS2 to Scotland.

‘So it is clearly disappointing to hear of this delay, which seems to prioritise short-termism over a structured, long-term strategy for what is Europe’s biggest infrastructure project. The delay postpones the immense benefits the project is set to deliver for the country, including extra capacity, more economic growth, improved connectivity – driving levelling up – and hundreds of thousands of jobs specifically in the Midlands and the North, and also to other parts of the UK more widely.

‘This stop-start approach to a project is an inefficient use of taxpayers’ money, and could ultimately drive the project's costs up, which is the opposite of what the Government is trying to do. We strongly urge the Government to push on with delivering the full HS2 scheme, including the Eastern Leg and the Golborne Link, or its replacement, as soon as possible.’

The Labour Party was also critical. Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: ‘Tens of thousands of jobs, and billions in economic growth are dependent on this project. The North is yet again being asked to pay the price for staggering Conservative failure. Conservative chaos and chronic indecision is holding back jobs, growth and costing the taxpayer. This is the biggest project in Europe and delays pile costs up in the long-run. Ministers now need to come clean on precisely how much their indecision will cost taxpayers and the North.’

The private operators’ lobbying organisation Rail Partners echoed the cost concerns voiced by other critics. Chief executive Andy Bagnall said: ‘While inflationary pressures make infrastructure projects more challenging, it is critical for Britain's economy and meeting net zero targets that large sections of HS2 are not delayed which will ultimately increase the overall cost.’

Reader Comments:

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

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    When has delaying work into the future ever resulted in lower costs. Is the government expecting negative inflation?

  • John Porter , Leeds

    I agree with Chris that
    “Great Western & current Trans Pennine upgrades illustrate [well] the challenges especially disruption to services rebuilding busy routes while maintaining an acceptable customer service”. and that
    “Given the amount of construction work already underway at Euston [it‘s] distressing that design work had still to be finalised on the station”.

    I hope the latter applies only to the WCML part of Euston and the planned over-station commercial development, which is intended to fund the WCML part upgrade.

  • Christ Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    A recurring comment is that HS2 is a political vanity project. I seem to recall that the original concept of high speed rail originated from detailed work from transport strategies. When adopted as by government as part of future rail policy it was after the massive delays and cost overruns of the West Coast Main Line upgrade which highlighted the challenge of rebuilding and upgrading existing infrastructure to meet 21st century operating conditions. The subsequent Great Western & current Trans Pennine upgrades only illustrate the challenges especially disruption to services rebuilding busy routes while maintaining an acceptable customer service. Also the Channel Tunnel Rail Link now HS1 had recently been constructed within budget and shown the advantages of constructing from new.

    Politics & democratic process has been a factor in HS2 cost inflation. Politics - despite having cross party support the project has been subject to constant review especially due to the current churn of PM's and Transport Sec's. Despite the Tory Party being in government since 2010 consistence in transport policy has been absent. Democratic process - construction costs have escalated especially the amount of tunnelling required leaving London to placate the concerns of affected communities & especially those represented by sceptical & vocal Tory back bench MP's.

    Given the amount of construction work already underway at Euston I find it distressing that a) design work had still to be finalised on the station & b) other than short sighted & blinkered thinking to make short term financial savings
    It is suggested not to complete OOC to Euston.

    That HS2 is subject to cost escalation is not just to inflationary pressure but by political prevarication and reaction to short term financial pressure.

  • Michael T., Reading

    The cost of things, especially in construction Supply Chains 'increase' each year. By postponing the completion of abc xyz... it only increases the overall cost.
    If you want abc xyz to be cost efficient - as that seems to be the ONLY objective of UK govts... :/ Everything should be started and completed asap. The Chinese KNOW this. It is how they have constructed over 30,000km of NEW High Speed Railways in less than a DECADE!
    HS2 from concept to completion will be 50+ years... the English WAY!
    Everyone has to have one of their fingers in the pot to kerching- cash in on it.
    Brexshitastropheomertà, HS2, LHR T5, Thames Estuary Airport, Lower Thames Weir/Crossing/Locks, and connecting all areas of urban conurbations in under two hours... the world Laughing Stock! hahaha

  • Chris Parker, Milton Keynes

    HS2 has had some justification in terms of capacity especially to release paths from Northampton and Milton Keynes for commuter traffic. It is also far more efficient to use dedicated tracks for fast passenger services.

    HS2 was flawed because it was and still is a political.project which involves a railway. The construction industry is a massive beneficiary , but talk of other benefits are questionable if you look at examples of HS rail elsewhere in the world.The "business case" was a work of fiction and the costs were a finger in the air. Recent factors such as covid and the war in Ukraine have changed the market for rail travel.

    The result is s piece meal mess as HS2 is hacked to pieces. There is also a golden opportunity to get it right. This requires common sense and bravery, something which politics can struggle with.

    Phase 2 should be suspended and a review of what makes sense , in reality not political fantasy. We do not need a 225mph railway in such a small country. The route and speed should be reconsidered

    Phase 1 should not go to Euston but stop at old oak common. How many people will terminate their journey at Euston?
    Old Oak Common has the potential for excellent links across London.

    An interchange between East West and HS2 should be built at Calvert to provide a seemless interchange.

    In the meantime the North needs investment, do lets do that.

  • david C Smith, Bletchley

    HS2 , we are told, is about capacity relief, rather than very high speed. If that is the primary need, then , as king arthur points out, some additional conventional infrastructure , possibly specialised for freight, could have been built a lot cheaper.

    Also, very high speed (VHS) is best suited to journeys of at least 240 miles, where new day return journeys become feasible and rail becomes time - competitive with aviation. Manchester is only 189 miles from Euston and Birmingham 116 miles. The present timings give rail a "lion's share" of the market already. On our WCML, resignalling could allow the pendolinos to use their top speed of 140 mph , so getting a sub 2 hour Manchester - Euston timing.

    A retired Civil Engineer told me that extending HS2 from Manchester to Glasgow / Edinburgh would be very costly due to the topography.

    Originally, if the plan had been to mainly relieve capacity on WCML, , a cheaper routing for VHS might have been via an East Coast
    alignment, serving West Yorkshire / Tees /Tyne / Edinburgh/ Glasgow..

    However, it seems it is now too late to completely re - jig things . Could it be that an adaptation of what has already been done might solve the soaring costs syndrome? Specifically, carry on with the line from Euston, up to Lichfield or Crewe ( Euston to Birmingham only would be an expensive joke), whilst a second VHS line branches off in the area to the north of Aylesbury , through the East Midlands / West Yorkshire / Teesside / Tyneside / Scottish Central Belt ? There may well be factors that would not allow this, but I just put it in for further consideration.

  • Stephen Dearden, New Mills

    I still suspect HS2 will never reach beyond Crewe relying on the WCML to Manchester. As for ending the service at Old Oak Common it seems absurd.

  • Chris Packham, Birmingham

    As I understand, phase 1 includes the section from Birmingham Interchange to the WCML at Handsacre, near Lichfield. The 2 year delay is to phase 2a and later phases: Fradley/Lichfield to Crewe and Manchester. This is important because media reports, and Mark Harper's announcement, suggest that only Old Oak Common-Birmingham is not subject to delay. It's vital that the HS2/WCML link at Handsacre is not delayed so that HS2 trains to the North West can use HS2 from its initial opening.
    Lichfield's MP, Michael Fabricant, does not seem to understand this, as he calls for HS2 to 'make good the damage already done' in his constituency. Is my understanding right? To delay construction of the few miles of HS2 between Birmingham and the WCML would be madness.

  • John Porter , Leeds

    I welcome this sensible announcement and DfT’s commitment to delivering HS2 services to Euston within the substantial overall spending profile.
    It is wise to “take time to ensure we have an affordable and deliverable station design, delivering Euston alongside high-speed infrastructure to Manchester.”
    On 7th February at an All Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) reception at the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) the Chancellor Hunt said: “I really want to have HS3, HS4 and HS5. We have got to have much better connectivity.” despite widespread cost concerns on HS2 (NCE online 8/2/23).
    What I suspect he had in mind is the following adaptable and flexible sequence, within the Government’s current annual expenditure profile. The IPR funded schemes are shown above the -+-+-+-+-+ line, using my numbering system:-
    HS2 Phase 1 Euston-Birmingham. Under Construction
    HS2 Phase 2a Birmingham/Crewe Fully Approved
    HS2 Phase 2b Crewe-Manchester Detail Submitted to Parliament
    HS2 Phase 2c Birmingham-East Midlands IPR Priority for Sheffield
    HS3 Warrington-Marsden NPR Core Being Designed
    HS3a Marsden-Church Fenton. NPR Priority via Leeds/Bradford
    HS3b Warrington-Liverpool. Liverpool’s Priority
    HS2 Phase 2d Hoo Green-Preston. Awaiting Complementary
    . Scheme Design further North
    HS4. Selby Diversion-Newark ECML bypass Ditto to serve Newcastle

    Slowing down Phase 2a will allow Phase 1 to open, with a demonstrable income stream likely to be attractive to pension funds and thus providing capital for HS3a, 3b & 4. The franchising of HS1 provided a similar funding stream which might have justified Thameslink.

  • king arthur, buckley

    I think we're starting to see that HS2 was and continues to be a political vanity project rather than the promised transport renaissance.

    WCML capacity issues could have been fixed with a new conventional railway - perhaps even freight-only. And I think most in the industry would agree that any cash injection would be better directed at electrification and reinstating some of the strategic links like Stratford to Honeyborne and the Woodhead Line. The railway is still blighted by Beeching's legacy, particularly the policy of closing 'duplicate' lines, a failure that was exposed in dramatic fashion when the seawall was washed away at Dawlish.

    The astonishing decision not to give funding to develop a business case for reinstating the Stratford to Honeyborne line, under the Restore Your Railway scheme, frankly shows what little appetite there is among policymakers for improving the network.

  • Jon Alderton, Milton Keynes

    Have I read this right, in that Euston will not be ready until phase 2 to Manchester is complete? Therefore meaning a service from Birmingham to Old Oak Common only for several years?
    [It does seem possible that Old Oak Common-Birmingham will open before OOC-Euston.--Ed.]