HS2 not going to London Euston, paper reports
HS2, Britain’s new high speed rail link, faces a massive blow to the prestige of the project. Reports in the UK claim that the line will no longer reach Euston in central London and will be cut back to Old Oak Common, the vast interchange planned for the west of the city. Passengers will be required to change to other services, including the recently opened Elizabeth Line (formerly known as Crossrail) in order to reach the city centre.
The story was broken on Friday morning (27 January) by the popular tabloid Sun newspaper. Reaction has been febrile from all quarters, with the exception of HS2 Limited, the company formed to build the line, which has remained in shocked silence.
On the same day as the UK government is to make a major statement about future economic growth in the UK, one of its flagship investment projects faces an acutely embarrassing reversal, in the face of spiralling costs, driven by exponential inflation in the construction industry. The high speed railway, dubbed HS2 and currently being built between Birmingham and London faces the prospect of being stopped five miles short (8 kilometres) from central London. The vast cost of the project is, according to some commentators, out of control, and the government is on the verge of announcing a significant further cutback. The project has already seen cancellation of lines to cities in the north of England.
Knock-on effect for Euston redevelopment
The Sun has claimed that government sources have leaked that the project may be delayed by a further two to five years, which would mean trains not running until the middle of the next decade at the earliest. The paper says that spiralling costs in the construction sector have also scuppered the building of the showpiece terminal at Euston in central London. That would have a knock-on effect for the proposed redevelopment of the overall station complex, which is also the terminus of the West Coast Main Line, the busiest mixed traffic line in Europe, and the main beneficiary of the capacity added by HS2.
Old Oak Common was always planned as being the initial London terminus of HS2. The wider redevelopment of Euston will take significantly longer to deliver. High Speed trains will initially terminate in the west London suburb for at least five years, until the Euston site is ready. Part of the economic legacy of HS2 has always been promoted as the regeneration of a largely run down part of west London. There is even a case to be made that Old Oak Common will benefit to an even greater extent if the line never does progress into central London.
Undermines connectivity and viability
Without a central London terminal, passengers would be required to board high speed trains at Old Oak Common for the journey north. That was always part fo the plan – since Euston was not expected to open for at least five years after services begin. However, the prospect of Euston being dropped from the plans undermines the connectivity and the viability of the project to attract customers. Instead, customers from all over London would be required to find their way to Old Oak Common – a former industrial site in the west of the city – to board trains.
Old Oak Common is familiar to the railway community already. The name was given to an extensive maintenance depot, and the redevelopment is easily visible from the main line out of Paddington, serving the west of England and the south of Wales. Despite the proximity of the Great Western Route, there has never been more than a lightly used freight chord between that line and the WCML. The news comes just as HS2 operations begin at their new depot in West Ruislip, where tunnel lining sections are being delivered.
Euston ‘significantly delayed at best’
The recently appointed UK government transport secretary Mark Harper has said that the project was experiencing a high level of inflation. It seems that the one-hundred billion pound railway development is about to feel the consequences of that economic squeeze. Avoiding five miles of tunnelling and the building of a huge new terminal in central London, would obviously cut a significant portion of cost from the project.
Instead, the government may choose to safeguard the building of the next stage, north from Birmingham to Crewe (where the line would join the WCML) and on to Manchester. Government sources have been quoted as saying there is a commitment to “delivering HS2 to Manchester, as confirmed in the Autumn Statement.” However, The Sun newspaper, which has never supported the project, says that the Euston terminal will be significantly delayed at best, and likely cancelled.
Still room for economic rethink
Business interests in the north of England have also been outraged at the potential for the line to terminate short of central London. The forced change of transport at Old Oak Common may suit some passengers from other parts of the capital and the South East, but it undermines the sub one-hour travel time between Britain’s two biggest cities.
Henri Murison, who is chief executive to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, a broad coalition of interests in the north of England, says the reports are very disappointing. However, he says they should not be taken as an immutable statement of interning. He believes there is still room for economic rethink on the project and delivering it, in so much as it stands at present. “Every time we lop of bits off HS2 we make the rest of the money we’re spending less worth it”, he told broadcast media this morning from an interview in Leeds. He is however very critical of the already scaled plans to extend the line into a network, directly serving other cities, including Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds. No media source has yet had any further comment from the government or from HS2 Limited.
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