HS2 Train Visualisation

HS2 given a sporting chance with a hat-trick of enquiries

HS2 train visualisation HS2 Ltd

It has already been reviewed twice. Now, Britain’s high speed rail scheme is to face a third ministerial enquiry. That was this weekend’s shock news for HS2, the giant engineering project to build a new line between London and Birmingham. With costs spiralling and government coffers emptying, there is speculation that the already trimmed project could face further cut backs.

Last week it was the shock revelation that the line may terminate in west London, not in the city centre. This time it’s a newspaper story from The Times of London that says ministers, worried by the rising cost of the project, have called for a far-reaching review. Critics of the entire development have rallied to the cause, but supporters have also welcomed the potential review as a final endorsement of the new line.

Keeps getting knocked down, HS2 keeps getting back up

If there is one thing that doesn’t change with the British, it is their resistance to change. No infrastructure project in the UK has ever had a smooth passage when faced with public resistance. HS2 has faced its fair share of resistance. Some would say the 140-mile (230 km) project has already faced far more than its fair share. So far the project has answered them all, and still continues its slow, expensive, but highly engineered progress, despite equally highly engineered protests.

Overhead shot of Euston HS2 site
HS2 is hard at work on the ground, building from Birmingham all the way to Euston, pictured here (HS2 Limited)

However, if there is one thing that may yet scupper the project it is budget. Inflation has taken its toll on the UK treasury. Projects around the country have been scrapped, scaled back or delayed. Every Westminster department has been told to trim their budgets. It should therefore have come as no surprise that a review has been demanded on the HS2 high speed line, which some sources say is now carrying a nine-figure price tag. With construction industry costs rising even more steeply than the ten per cent inflation endured elsewhere in the economy, big construction projects are under pressure. Few, if any, come close to HS2’s price tag, which may yet exceed one hundred billion pounds (120 billion euro).

Enquiries, enquiries, enquiries

HS2 has already faced two enquiries. In 2014 the Lords, the upper house of the UK parliament, demanded a review. At that time, supporters of the project were still entertaining hopes that an entire network of high-speed lines would be built, connecting cities as far north as Edinburgh and Glasgow. Those hopes were soon tempered, and the network was defined as a 330-mile (530 km) stretch in a “Y” formation, serving London – Birmingham on the spine, with an “Eastern Leg” to Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds; and a western extension to connect Manchester and to the West Coast Main Line at a point yet to be finalised.

Next, under the instruction of the last but two prime ministers, Boris Johnson, the government’s Department for Transport commissioned in 2019 the study that became the Oakervee Review of HS2. The controversially contested and delayed report was published with a marginally positive endorsement, but with several conditions attached.

Andy Burnham would not be happy

It is highly unlikely that any enquiry would produce a recommendation to abandon the project. Civil engineering work is already advanced all along the spine of the route, and work is evidently underway at both the Birmingham Curzon Street terminal, and at Old Oak Common and Euston in London. Fears expressed (last week) over a permanent curtailment at Old Oak Common were voiced last week, after another revelation in the British press.

Possibilities do exist through for descoping and cost-cutting. The whole construction project could be slowed down to spread cost, for example. Also slowing down the line speed would hardly affect the appeal of the line. The HS2 company has long since played down its high-speed nature, in favour of the additional capacity it will provide. That is something which could still be provided with a less expensively engineered permanent way and a conventional, rather than bespoke fleet of trains. Finally, mention it at the peril of invoking the wrath of everyone north of Curzon Street, not least mayor Andy Burnham, but the connections to Manchester and the West Coast Main Line make quite a dent in that ever-rising budget.

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Author: Simon Walton

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

2 comments op “HS2 given a sporting chance with a hat-trick of enquiries”

Joachim Falkenhagen|14.02.23|20:19

One hundred billion pounds = 100,000,000,000. 12 figures.

What is being done to make costs rise that much? Maybe a little more recklessness is required, to tear down a couple of houses that happen to be in the way if each house teared down saves 10 mio. in construction costs by better routeing. And be generous to landowners that have to give up something, which will cost a fraction of savings.


It’s a shame we didn’t get on with this project in 2010, we’d have most of it built by now, at 70% of today’s prices. Damm those NIMBY’S

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