HS2 timetable for phase 1 ‘unrealistic’ and ‘behind schedule’

HS2 is already behind schedule and could fail to deliver phase 1 by the 2026 target date, with problems including uncertainty about financing, lack of staff and the need for further analysis, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

The NAO had found that HS2 is only 60% confident that it will be able to complete phase 1 of the high-speed line by the target date of 2026 – the DfT had set it a target of 80% confidence.

The report says HS2 is “currently behind the original schedule”, having missed 32% of planning and development targets so far, and the DfT considers the HS2 timetable “too ambitious.” For example, the timetable for completion of the first three formal review points was delayed from July 2015 to May 2016, and when HS2 did meet the capability requirements, it did not pass review point 1 due to ongoing concerns about cost and schedule, which has had a knock-on effect on other procurement milestones.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “HS2 is a large, complex and ambitious programme which is facing cost and time pressures.

“The unrealistic timetable set for HS2 Ltd by the Department means they are not as ready to deliver as they hoped to be at this point. The Department now needs to get the project working to a timescale that is achievable. ”

The report says that the HS2 Bill is on track to gain Royal Assent by the target of December 2016, an extension from the original target of March 2015, which it called “a significant achievement”.

Further delays and funding decisions

However, it adds that the opening date could be delayed if the Bill is passed more than three months after this date.

Further delays could also be incurred in the coming years if decision-makers need additional analysis to support decisions, or if the DfT decides to seek private finance instead of public funding for the project.

Lord Adonis, interim chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, has indicated that private finance should pay for major projects such as HS2, but the NAO said that the procurement of new trains for the Intercity Express and Thameslink programmes shows that private finance can take longer than the two years allowed for procurement, from April 2017 to December 2019, in the HS2 schedule.

HS2 has recruited 500 staff in 2015 and is set to recruit 300 more this year. However, the NAO said that its property and land acquisition team is falling behind schedule because it doesn’t have enough staff to meet demand. It also needs to complete the development of an automated information management system to help it collect and analyse data, and develop an enterprise resource management system.

In addition, HS2 is dependent on Network Rail successfully completing a programme of upgrades, some of which have been subject to delays. Later this year the DfT, HS2 and Network Rail plan to sign a protocol which requires Network Rail to place the work it is required to carry out to support High Speed 2 at the same level of priority as its other infrastructure improvement works, and incentivises Network Rail to deliver to cost and schedule.

However, the report commends HS2 and the DfT for taking steps to implement recommendations from a previous report in 2013.

Assessing the pace of the programme

The NAO recommends that the DfT assesses whether the pace at which the programme is planned to move over the next few years allows key recommendations and decisions to be supported by full assurance, and should establish a clear, thorough and realistic process by which HS2 will gain delegated authority.

In addition, it says that the department’s accounting officer should continue to periodically check the deliverability of the programme schedule and in the near term the DfT and HS2 should ensure that the programme schedule for phases 2a and 2b is based on lessons learned from phase 1.

It further recommends that they quantify the impact that proposed and future changes to the existing plans for phase 2 will have on core benefits and ensure that the rationale behind key decisions about HS2 is communicated to stakeholders.

Simon Kirby, chief executive of HS2, said: “The role of the NAO is to challenge projects such as HS2 and through that challenge improve the way they deliver for the taxpayer. This report does this and we accept that challenge.

“It also, however, recognises the real progress we have made in taking the concept of HS2 and moving it nearer reality.

“As the report says, HS2 remains a highly ambitious project, but as it also demonstrates there are real and substantial grounds why the public, government and parliament should have increased confidence in our ability to deliver the project. Our job is to keep earning that confidence going forward.”

Robert Goodwill, minister for transport, insisted that HS2 is on track and the NAO agrees.

“We are on course to start construction next year and complete the scheme on time and budget,” he said.

Lord Berkeley, chair of the Rail Freight Group, warned yesterday that HS2 may be threatened by the economic consequences of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

HS2 has also been criticised for its engagement with communities who will be affected by the project, with the Department for Transport renewing its plans for community engagement and the project’s Residents’ Commissioner proposing a similar review of its scheme for compensation.

Changes to Sheffield HS2 station location

Elsewhere, the Sheffield Star reported today that Sheffield’s HS2 station is to be moved from Meadowhall to the Midland railway station in the city centre, following a campaign by the Star and business and local government leaders.

Cllr Julie Dore, the leader of the council, said: “This is fantastic news for Sheffield and the City Region. We are delighted the government has concluded that a city centre station location is the best option. We have been making this case for years because analysis shows it will create thousands more jobs than the Meadowhall option, and we are just delighted that all our hard work looks like it has finally paid off.

“At a time of great uncertainty following last week’s referendum, this is a real boost for Sheffield and the City Region. A high speed rail line running into the centre of Sheffield will also play a huge part in helping us to regenerate and transform the city centre.”

(Image c. HS2)

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Huguenot   28/06/2016 at 11:38

Surely there isn't room for HS2 at Sheffield Midland without a lot of property demolition, road diversions etc? Remember it needs Continental-gauge platforms so can't use the existing ones (unless Sheffield is to be condemned for ever to the narrower 'classic-compatible' trains). Sheffield Victoria would have been an option but that has already been looked at. As for the project timetable: let's just get on with it -- all this hesitation will itself cause costs to rise. If necessary, start Phase 1 from Old Oak Common with Euston to follow later.

Lesf   28/06/2016 at 13:05

Be reassured, HS2 will be late and overbudget - if we are foolish enough to build it. But don't expect HS2 to admit it until they have Royal Assent in the bag. We don't have much time to change HS2 into something actually worth building. The solution for Sheffield is two-pronged: Victoria reopens as part of the Woodhead high speed route to Manchester while trains running off a sensibly-routed north-south HS spine give Sheffield Midland an equivalent service. Victoria and Midland need to be linked together for easy interchange but there's no need to alter Midland.

Lesf   28/06/2016 at 13:13

Huguenot, there is no need for any new line to be to be built to Euro gauge for two reasons: 1. We are leaving EU so the TSI requirements can be ignored, saving a lot of cost, and 2. The HS1-HS2 link has been abandoned so Euro gauge trains could never have run beyond St Pancras. Sheffield Midland can stay as it is and still be an essential part of the network.

Gb   28/06/2016 at 20:00

We don't need HS2 which is just a Govt. vanity project. Far better to re-open some of our closed routes like the GC and Midland lines to Manchester to relieve congestion on the WCML thus providing more capacity for freight and better connectivity for passengers.

David   02/07/2016 at 20:48

What the devil are some of you on about? Building to Euro gauge is so that (aside from limited classic-compatible units) custom high-speed trains do not have to be designed and built. Therefore we benefit from economies of scale, and if we ever need to resell our trains it will be far easier. It's got naught to do with pleasing the beaurucrats. As for rebuilding the old Victorian Midland lines, why? Neither here nor there.

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