HS2 train by artist impression

All change again as UK Government refutes HS2 cut back claims

Visualisation of HS2 train HS2

It is as you were, and Britain’s high speed railway project HS2 will reach London Euston after all. At least that is the view of UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who answered probing questions after a storm of protest broke out following revelations that budget cuts would mean the line would terminate five miles (8 kilometres) from central London. 

The chancellor was forced to defend the project, after a national newspaper made extensive claims that the project to build a new line between Birmingham and London was about to be cut back to save money. Under threat are the expensive underground section in central London, the new terminus at Euston, and a wider redevelopment of the station precinct.

National media had claimed the project was vastly over its already huge budget, and the government was about to pull the plug on the showpiece terminus Development at Euston. Instead the line would permanently terminate at Old Oak Common, a planned interchange in the west of London, where work is already well under way. Hunt sought to reassure a phalanx of reporters that the line would indeed reach central London, but a large body of opinion remains unconvinced – not least because the project has already suffered significant reductions in scope.

Network cut while costs go up

No matter which estimate may be correct, the cost of building the new high speed line between Birmingham and London is huge. Originally priced at around 55 billion pounds (66 billion euro), the entire high speed railway project would have seen over three hundred route miles (480 kilometres) built between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, directly serving many other cities in the north of England, and connecting into the West and East Coast Main Lines.

Now, with the cost possibly 100 billion pounds (120 billion euro), only around 120 miles (190 kilometres) is under construction or planned. The abandonment of the so-called ‘Eastern Leg’, which would have served Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds, was met with outrage from civic and business leaders in those cities. What’s left is the line between London and Birmingham, with the Crewe and Manchester leg looking vulnerable to delay or even outright cancellation.

Jeremy’s spoken

Speaking just after delivering a wide-ranging speech on economic policy, Hunt found himself in peril of a jam, and forced to reiterate his conviction that there was no plan to cut back the HS2 line. “[HS2 was a] specific priority for me in the Autumn Statement, and I don’t see any conceivable circumstances to why that will not end up at Euston”, he said.

With government finances coming under waves of pressure, and the former transport secretary in the treasury hot seat, it is unsurprising that the very expensive HS2 project has come under further scrutiny. Man of the hour Hunt may break out his hoodie and resort to one of his famed grungy video performances to reassure the public. Meanwhile the HS2 construction project continues on an even flow, including site preparation at Euston.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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