Anger and little sympathy for UK’s high-speed rail delay
Controversy has followed the UK government decision last week to slow down the construction of HS2. Ironically, the high-speed railway project will be a slow-speed build, long into the next decade. The government in London say the move will help reduce ballooning costs. However, incredulous critics say that is contrary to accounting practice, which suggests the opposite will be the outcome. A protracted construction term, and a longer wait for revenue earning service, will lead to greater overall costs in the long term, they warn.
There is also deep disappointment on the ground, from rail companies, construction interests, and from stakeholders along the route of the London to Birmingham line. The prospect of a prolonged construction phase has brought about the likelihood of a reduced workforce for HS2 Limited, the company formed to deliver the project. There is anger too from residents and businesses affected by the build, and those planning for its introduction. In political and business circles, it is being called ‘the biggest derailment of all time’.
Huge redevelopment project now jeopardised
Last week, the UK government took the controversial but expected decision to slow down the building of HS2. The costs of Britain’s high speed rail project have been climbing steeply out of control, especially in the economic aftermath of the pandemic and the energy crisis. Exponentially rising prices in construction materials and labour costs have pushed the ambitious civil engineering venture above one hundred billion pounds (120 billion euro), according to some accountants. Now the government in London has put the brakes on, in an effort to balance the books.
Nowhere has the anger on the ground been more acute than in the neighbourhood of Camden, in central London, where the eventual terminus of Euston is situated, assuming the project ever makes it through from Old Oak Common. The extensive redevelopment of the already busy Euston terminal has seen a swathe of the popular neighbourhood demolished. The payoff for the area is a huge redevelopment project, which some local interests say is now jeopardised by the delay.
Must not forget promises made
Camden is no stranger to railway development. The building of what has become the West Coast Main Line saw the wholesale destruction of much of the nineteenth-century community. The cruelty of the episode is famously chronicled in the novel Dombey and Son. Now, angry stakeholders and disappointed dissenters are united in agreement that the Dickensian dystopia is being revisited on their twenty-first century community.
Political reaction locally has been savage. “The community around Euston has already lived through years of disruption with no end in sight”, said Georgia Gould, the leader of Camden Council, the local authority for the area. Referring to the project as a whole, she said commitments have already been made. “HS2 must not forget the promises they made to our community and must continue to deliver on them. “We can’t have a partially abandoned building site, with huge areas fenced off creating a barrier between our communities, and a general stagnation which leads to opportunities being lost.”
Commit to project and commit to rail freight
Industry sources have reacted critically to the government delays to the HS2 project. “[HS2 is] critical in terms of freeing up capacity on the network”, said John Smith, the chief executive of GB Railfreight in a media interview given to national radio. He said that the possible cancellation of lines north of Birmingham, or an indefinite delay to connections to the West Coast Main Line, Manchster and the East Midlands would cripple the capacity enhancements for which HS2 has been continually promoted as the bets answer. “Doing it half-baked like this creates a number of problems, not least that the traffic on it that heads to Liverpool, Manchester and further north to Scotland will now spit itself out onto the old infrastructure at places like Crewe”, he said.
“I understand the delays and money doesn’t grow on trees but there should be a complete project. I think whilst it might save in the short term, I’m fairly convinced it will cost more.”
Further north, the anger is palpable among those left without any high speed rails, without any evidence of construction, and with the prospect of never benefitting from the project. Political leaders have already stated their disappointment over the delays. They’ve also been furious at the watering down of other major rail infrastructure projects. Back in London, the leader of Camden Council is equally dismayed with the prospect of having a partial project at Euston. “HS2 must ensure their plans deliver a new Euston Station”, said Gould. “A fully integrated terminus for both HS2 and Network Rail trains, and space for development of new homes and jobs for our communities. They should also commit to plans for transporting construction spoil and waste by rail instead of road, to help protect the health of our residents.”
When the tunnel boring machines start from the north-west at Old Oak Common station for Euston, there will not be much construction work to be perveived at Euston, apart from for the station itself.
Saving on the number of tunnel boring machines seems meaningful to me, i.e. using three of these machines on the six tunnel sections one after the other.