Latest Rail News


Yes, HS2 is on track

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 17

Jim Steer, director of Greengauge 21, reflects on what have been a busy few months for HS2 and the progress made to date.

In its review of post-general election investment priorities, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) called for government to “introduce the hybrid bill for phase 2a (Birmingham to Crewe) of HS2 and publish the finalised route for phase 2b (Crewe to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds), including connections with HS3, and let the major work contracts for the project, by the end of July 2017”. 

Against these targets, government has performed well, hitting all of them bar one. Only the question of connections with HS3 are left unresolved – and these are a matter for Transport for the North (TfN) to address, not DfT, hopefully by the end of 2017. And nobody can accuse the department of a reluctance to publish background material: over 100 documents were released in July, including an updated strategic case. 

The prompt decision on seeking Parliamentary powers for the acceleration of the phase 2a route to Crewe by 2027 – expected to cost £3.2bn – is a clear indication of government’s resolve now that phase 1 has Royal Assent. Key questions about the design of Crewe Hub are out for consultation. This is for the DfT, not HS2 Ltd, to resolve: in effect the question is the extent to which the existing station and its outdated track layout should be modernised – a task started in the 1960s but never finished. It is to be hoped that a composite funding package can be developed, even in this chastened time of cutbacks to Network Rail capital programmes. The phase 2a journey time benefits for Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Scotland (each faster by 13-14 minutes) will be very welcome in any event, but it will be Crewe station acting as a major hub interchange that will broaden the benefits of HS2 across Cheshire, North Staffordshire and Wales. 

 Leeds Station Visual Exterior 151130

© HS2

Decisions on HS2’s phase 2b alignment have not been straightforward, but the extended period of consultation has led to several important refinements, and a key decision: on the eastern limb Meadowhall is dropped and instead a more easterly route is to be taken, with Sheffield to be served by spurs, using the existing network to reach Sheffield Midland station. This means that at least one of TfN’s connectivity aims – a 30-minute journey time between Leeds and Sheffield – can be delivered by HS2. Again, HS2 Ltd can stand back to see how the works on the existing network – which must include electrification – will be funded and delivered. 

The civils works contracts let for phase 1 were announced in July as well. While not covering the new HS2 stations, for which separate tendering is at an advanced stage, they do cover the major tunnelling works and the whole of the 192km phase 1 alignment. The published contract values total £6.6bn. The contract prices, seen within a context of the total phase 1 budget of £27bn, goes a long way to help counter the repeated suggestions that HS2’s budget is out of control. 

In an unrelated development, plans were announced in August by UK Central Solihull Urban Growth Company for a much-revised approach to the design and function of the HS2 phase 1 Birmingham Interchange station. Instead of a mega-scale car park (with up to 7,500 spaces) and a focus on car access, the revised plan envisages a development around the station of housing and new employment centres, and Midlands Metro services. The expected impact on the local economy is up to +£4bn GVA. This will require some changes, evidently, to the HS2 station design, and variations will be sought accordingly to the planning powers already granted. 

Taken together with the change in South Yorkshire that dropped Meadowhall, this would mean abandoning the large-scale park and ride focus of two out of three HS2 stations. This is probably a wise adaptation from the earliest plans, which date back to 2010-11 when Connected Autonomous Vehicles were just a dream on the distant horizon. But as they get closer to reality, if cars can be driven away autonomously, why use key development land to provide a space for them to park at HS2 stations for the day? 

In summary, the NIC should be satisfied that HS2 is – at this stage – on programme. Questions remain about how the works to fund improvements to the existing network – and these will determine how much of a stimulus HS2 can deliver to regional economies such as the Sheffield city region, and the very wide catchment of Crewe. The NIC needs to turn its attention next to funding and delivering the work needed on the existing network to accommodate HS2 services and broaden the project’s economic benefits. Ministers will determine CP6 funding (2019-24) in mid-October.




Stratfan   21/09/2017 at 08:00

Meanwhile in the real world we are borrowing 1.6 trillion,our NHS is underfunded,care for our elderly is in crisis,police force budgets are cut etc.etc. Never mind we can save 13 minutes on a train journey!

Michael King   21/09/2017 at 10:39

It's the people not on the train who benefit most. A Government could alleviate the genuine points you make and invest for the future. The key is not the 13 minutes. It's the capacity, the resilience , the grades that are separated. Do a thought experiment take away the M1. The Victoria Line. ZThe Doncaster by-pass, would that have benefitted the NHS, pensions etc.

Andrew Gwilt   21/09/2017 at 11:12

Well that's me told. Unless it is really happening.

Chrism   21/09/2017 at 14:46

Stratfan, stop being simple - time cuts are good, but not the main benefit. Phase 2a releases huge capacity on the existing railway between Crewe and the West Midlands. And where do you think the money comes from to build future hospitals, pay for the aging population, Police force budgets etc? The answer is taxation - and the best way to ensure a higher tax base in future is to invest so that the UK economy continues to grow. HS2 is essential for future prosperity. If we don't invest to grow our economy the public services will increasingly suffer cuts as the years go by. Postponing investment now would be a very stupid thing to do.

Stratfan   21/09/2017 at 15:31

Chrism Sorry for being simple but I have yet to see any independent evidence that hs2 is going to generate the taxation necessary to contribute to essential public services.It will however cost each taxpayer a significant amount. Perhaps you can point me to the body of independent evidence to support the spending of this massive amount of borrowed money

Chrism   21/09/2017 at 17:56

There is no 'proof' available to anyone because we are talking about what will happen in future. There are however estimations made by experts who take into account many factors - including what has happened elsewhere in the world. This evidence is widely available because high speed rail mileage has been increasing globally at a rapid rate for well over two decades. The countries that are investing in HSR are doing so because of economic benefits it will bring. For HS2 I suggest you look at the economic case documents that were put in the public domain. The latest (in July) estimated that for every pound spent on building HS2, there will be a return of £2.30 - and that assumes passenger growth stops in 2037, which is very unlikely.

Stratfan   21/09/2017 at 18:07

I guess you refer to the economic case that presumes people do very little work on trains for its benefit cost ratio! It's a London centric project that will do nothing for the north south divide

John Jefkins   21/09/2017 at 20:05

Its a northern centric project with BIRMINGHAM at the centre of the new Y shaped network. The 1 hr time savings (to Manchester, Leeds, York or Sheffield) HALVE journey times and thus DOUBLE business hinterlands for sales or to recruit talent. That is what boosts business to earn the extra tax. The huge extra capacity - both on HS2 itself and on the 3 freed up mainlines (WCML, MML and ECML) also boosts our economy to sell more tickets and also earn more tax revenue. The capacity is the equivalent of 3 new motorways or about 18 lanes of car traffic (12 on HS2 itself and about 6 on freed up existing mainlines). You cannot work on a train if you don't have a seat - and Network Rail estimate that without HS2 capacity 50% of intercity passengers won't get a seat by 2025. And if you reach your destination in half the time, you get to work at that destination. By saving 2hrs on your return trip you can visit Manchester or Leeds for a late morning meeting and be back in your central London office by 2pm instead of 4pm for example.

Stratfan   22/09/2017 at 07:27

If it's a Birmingham centric project why isn't it starting there and going northwards and why is so much of the budget for London stations If we are so short of capacity why does the government refuse to publish figures to support this claim and why is Euston so far down the league when it comes to overcrowded trains Do you really believe that in 2033 business people will be leaping on trains to secure deals that will ensure all our futures.

Chrism   22/09/2017 at 09:47

Dear me, some people are determined to try and throw everything they possibly can at HS2. So trains into Euston in the peak hours are empty while trains from Birmingham to the north carry more passengers? What utter nonsense. Similar claims were made by the Chiltern NIMBYs and no-one believed them in the end. Whatever you think, the project and all of it's economic claims were scrutinized in great depth by Parliament over a three-year period. Many experts were called to give their opinions and in the end both houses voted to approve HS2 - by huge majorities. The nation's lawmakers have been convinced of the economic case for this railway to create much-needed capacity, to prevent economic growth being stifled. Because that is the economic penalty of not being able to run as many passenger and freight trains as the demand would justify. Stifled demand equals lost wealth. The hybrid bill was passed 7 months ago - so face facts, HS2 is going to be built. And just like HS1 and Crossrail, in decades to come users of the much faster and longer trains will be amazed that anyone argued it was a bad idea. As for asking why the London stations will cost so much, it should be patently obvious to anyone who looks at the extent of the works. London isn't exactly awash with easy greenfield sites is it? However as Jim Steers says, so far the design and build costs are proving to be well within the total funding envelope. The hysterical claims of the anti movement (for example "over £50 billion cost for phase 1") have been shown to be so much hot air. And the credibility of those who made such outlandish claims is now shot.

Stratfan   22/09/2017 at 12:20

As a simple taxpayer I will be amazed if hs2 is ever built as it is so flawed and likely to cost so much over the current budget that someone will have to pull the plug and write off the billions already spent

Michael Wand   23/09/2017 at 09:22

In poor old over-crowded Britain, speed-first HS2 will bring central Birmingham into London's one-hour commuter catchment and worsen the un-tackled interchange problem at Euston. It will not have a central London interchange with Crossrail (for the City and Canary Wharf), it not have an interchange with HS1 or with all those people south of the Thames served by the Southern electric network and it will do nothing to make our fragmented but populous North more competitive with London. And see:

Jase   23/09/2017 at 15:52

The business case is flawed and over exaggerated- FOI requests have proved this. Only people within the rail industry benefits from this... No independent report supports it. Stop kidding yourselves... HS2 is over budget and already behind schedule and it'll will just get worse... but will just move the goal posts back to hide the facts from the public and government watchdogs

Michael Kay   15/12/2017 at 11:17

How good to read a factual and knowledgeable account of what's actually going on, instead of the mindless speculation and doom-mongering that we are usually served with. It's a shame that it still mentions journey time improvements as the driver, however: it would be much better to focus on the need to deliver extra capacity on the network.

Peter   19/02/2018 at 16:57

I love trains but cannot afford to travel on them. Unlike in Germany where I spent a whole week travelling all over what was East Germany and my wallet never groaned once. My question is - will I be able to afford to travel on HS2 which I will have helped to pay for out of taxation?

Add your comment

Rail industry Focus

View all News


The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >

'the sleepers' blog

On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

29/06/2020On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

Following an independent audit, Sulzer’s Nottingham Service Centre has been accepted as part of the rail industry supplier approval scheme (RISAS). The accreditation reinforces the high-quality standards that are maintained by Sulzer’s... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio 4's BBC’s flagship news programme that he would not rule out his organisation issuing future r... more >
Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

08/05/2019Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

In answering the pressing questions of how current and future generations of managers can provide solutions to high-profile infrastructure projects across the UK, Pearson Business School, part of... more >