Rail Industry Focus

01.05.14

HS2 Plus review

HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins has published his HS2 Plus review, recommending several new initiatives for the project. RTM’s David Stevenson was at the launch.

HS2 can be the “catalyst for change” in the UK by helping to rebalance the economy and provide lasting jobs for the future, according to Sir David Higgins, chairman of HS2 Ltd.

At the launch of his HS2 Plus review in Manchester, the former Network Rail chief executive made a number of recommendations – the most substantial of which was to take the high-speed line up to Crewe by 2027 and complete Phase Two by 2030.

Northern Transport Hub

It was proposed that the government should accelerate work on Phase Two “as soon as possible” to take the line 43 miles further north than planned in Phase One to create a new transport hub at Crewe.

Sir David noted that the existing Phase One plans contained in the HS2 Hybrid Bill will clearly be transformative, by separating long-distance passenger traffic from freight and local services. Benefits also include allowing more services across the board; providing real benefits to commuters; delivering a faster and more reliable service for long-distance travellers; and freeing up more room for freight.

But he added that those benefits could be spread further north “sooner” if Phase Two was accelerated and the line was extended to a new regional transport hub at Crewe by 2027, six years ahead of schedule.

“This would bring together road and rail services for the region as a whole, allowing faster services sooner to Manchester, the rest of the north west and to Scotland,” said Sir David. “This creates the possibility of improving on the existing Phase Two schedule, not just for Crewe, but also, possibly, for the rest of Phase Two. Though I don’t want to make too much of that until we see how quickly a plan for the north as a whole can be produced and agreed.”

It was also recommended that HS2 should be fully integrated into the plans that local authorities across the north are making to regenerate their economies and communities.

What to do with Euston?

Looking at the London end of the development, Sir David noted that St Pancras, and now King’s Cross, have demonstrated how a strategic approach can not only deliver an integrated transport hub and better facilities, but also transform and regenerate the local area.

“We believe there is a unique opportunity to do the same at Euston,” he said.

He suggested that the government should consider a level-deck design, which would enable access from one side of the station to the other, better connecting the station to the local area and the community.

“Let’s produce a station which connects with the local community; meets the needs of HS2 and the existing network; and makes the most of private sector investment on one of the last great development sites in London,” said Sir David, adding that this is the time not just to restore the grandeur of the Euston arch, but something that “rivals St Pancras and Kings Cross, something to be proud of”.

Old Oak Common

However, as well as the proposed new hub at Crewe and developments at Euston, Sir David believes these projects should be backed up by further enhancing the scale of the interchange for Old Oak Common (OOC).

It has been suggested that as part of Phase One a new 14-platform ‘super interchange’ at OOC will provide “rapid” and “convenient” access to and from the West End, the City and Canary Wharf via Crossrail, and to Heathrow, the Thames Valley, the South West and Wales via the Great Western Main Line.

Sir David joked: “Not many of you, I suspect, will have heard of OOC, never mind be able to place it on the map. But, if we, collectively, make the right choices, it is destined to become not just a major interchange for the country, but also a long over-due source of regeneration.”

He said HS2 will be a catalyst for the comprehensive redevelopment at OOC, but that it cannot be the sole funding solution for regenerating a long-term community of over 20,000 homes and associated businesses to be developed over 20 to 30 years. The HS2 chairman added that the Mayoral Development Corporation must be properly resourced with people and funding, and given appropriate powers to see through at least 20 years of development.

HS1-HS2 Link

Sir David’s suggestion that the “imperfect compromise” that was the existing HS1-HS2 link should be scrapped was quickly taken on board by the government. He said it was the most cost-effective of the original proposals, but that its impacts on existing passenger and freight services and the local community were too harsh.

“I recommend that the government should re-consider and think about an alternative. In the short term the train paths, I believe, could be used to better effect for connections to places such as North Wales and, given the short distance involved between Euston and St Pancras, the impact on passengers of cancelling the link would be minimal,” he said.

The rest of Phase One, the HS2 chairman stated was “both necessary – and deliverable”.

Challenges

However, Sir David was also clear and frank about the challenges involved in making Phase One a reality. He stated that major obstacles include having clarity about the parliamentary process; clearing the hurdles faced at OOC; getting the Crossrail connection to the West Coast Main Line right; and making the right decisions on Euston.

He said: “The simple truth at the heart of this as any project is that there is a direct connection between certainty, time and cost. Hugely complex projects such as HS2 inevitably take time. This is not just because of the technical issues involved, but also because of the legislative process.”

Timescale

Asked at the event whether the project was at risk of being behind schedule, Sir David said: “If you look at the timeline, we were
always expected to start Phase One in calendar [year] 2017, so you need Royal Assent by 2016 to start then.

“The fact that getting it might slip from 2015 to 2016 won’t delay the project. But if it gets delayed to 2017, or beyond then,  it can start to take a while; I mean Crossrail took three years in the committee stage, all things can happen.

“That’s why I say it is too early to declare contingency release. With regards to Phase Two, it was never planned to start until 2021 construction, so if that goes into debate for 2017 to come out by 2020 – when you look at the engineering side of it – work could start a little quicker than planned.”

Also, as the project will span the lifetime of four to five parliaments, Sir David believes that it is critical to have bipartisan support for the project. He added that the Labour party’s requests have always been the same as the government’s, which is for proper scrutiny, proper pressure on costs and in particular how this will link in with the rest of the plans for the north. “So, in the end we need a more integrated plan for the north,” he noted.

Funding

During his review of the £50bn high-speed rail project, Sir David analysed the funding for both Phase One and Phase Two.

He stated: “I consider that it would be irresponsible to reduce the substantial contingency included. I believe that the resulting Phase One budget of £21.4bn, plus £3bn for trains, is enough to deliver Phase One.

“Inevitably, given the early stage of the project and the degree of uncertainty around the legislative process, there is an element of judgement involved in making that assessment and some variance on quanta and allocation according to the original figures. Overall, however, I am confident that the budget can be made to work.”

In addition to this, the government has set aside a further £21.2bn for the second phase of the project and that, plus the money to be allocated as part of Network Rail’s two control periods running from 2019 to 2029, should form the basis for a fully integrated plan.

During the funding calculations, as part of the HS2 Plus review, Sir David added that the starting point was the original budget for the infrastructure, track, and the trains, rolling stock, split between the two phases – without any contingency. “We then tested each line item on the Phase One budget and, where we thought necessary, adjusted accordingly. And then we added in the contingency, which, given the continuing uncertainty at this stage of the project amounts to about a third of the project, and we reached our conclusion that the budget is about right.”

Conclusions

At the launch event in Manchester Town Hall, Sir David also told RTM that during the project the relationship between Network Rail and HS2 in the future will be “incredibly, closely linked, much closer than they currently are”.

He also stated that in terms of job opportunities, HS2 will provide tens of thousands of jobs in construction while stimulating economic activity in the north.

However, to achieve all his plans for Phase Two, including to hopefully finish the project in 2030 rather than 2033, Sir David said:
“We need to work with Network Rail, government, and above all local leaders across the north as a whole to produce an integrated plan that will maximise the benefit of HS2 not just north/south, but also east/west from Liverpool to Hull”.

Summing up his review, the former Network Rail boss stated that, if done right, HS2 can provide an answer that stands the test of time and addresses the issues of congestion in the south, and lack of connectivity in the north.

He added: “The cost and impact are issues that have to be recognised and acknowledged, but so, too, does the cost and impact of doing nothing. Without HS2 the people of this country will continue to face the failures of our transport system on a daily basis.

“With it they will begin to see a strategic answer that can deliver real benefits within the foreseeable future.

“That is why, I believe, HS2 is a project which, despite the issues it raises, is in the national interest.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com 

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