The Prime Minister has been urged not to agree to suggestions that the HS2 station at Euston could be scaled back in order to cut costs in the short term.
The current plans for the HS2 station at Euston will see it delivered in two phases, with six platforms opened first to carry HS2 trains on the first stage of the railway up to the West Midlands. The second phase of the Euston station would open later, with an additional 5 platforms to manage demand when HS2 is extended to Crewe, Manchester and Leeds.
Phase one was scheduled for completion in 2026, and phase two in 2033.
Once complete, HS2 will more than double the number of seats out of Euston station during peak hours and free up space on the West Coast Mainline for more commuter services to places like Watford, Northampton and Milton Keynes.
However, the Oakervee review from last year called for a redesign of the station scaling back the station and increasing the amount of oversite development to fund it. Earlier this year it was revealed that the Department for Transport has instructed HS2 to refine the development to build it in one phase, but with just 10 platforms instead of 11 platforms.
Speeding up the construction in one phase it is argued will reduce the cost of rebuilding the Euston station, while cutting the platform numbers won’t affect capacity on the HS2 line.
In an ideal perfect world, that is correct, as it’s technically possible to run the full HS2 service of 16 trains per hour (later rising to 18tph) with 10 platforms at Euston. However, the world is not perfect, and that additional platform is critical to delivering the capacity for HS2 to allow for delays and problems.
As HS2 is not just a single line shuttling between two stations but a forked line with junctions and stations, delays on a tight timetable will happen at times. You only need one person to jam a door accidentally for a minute at a station with their luggage, or there to be particularly bad weather somewhere along the route to cause a delay.
The government’s own report (pdf link) into HS2 said that “11 dedicated platforms are required to support this level of operation and any fewer could cause regular delays.” With 10 platforms at Euston, you have to get trains in and out to a very tight schedule, but the 11th platform gives trains (and the staff on them) a bit of capacity to allow for the occasional problem.
That delivers what most people want most in a railway – a reliable service.
An open letter from the group, London First (pdf link), calls on the government not to “build future problems into the rail network by descoping key aspects of the Euston station plan”, noting that with “transport investments of this scale relatively small additional upfront costs can yield significant benefits for decades to come.”
The letter was signed by leaders of organisations in London as you might expect, but also Manchester and Birmingham, showing the UK-wide concerns that the proposed reduction at London will affect HS2’s capacity across the whole line. If HS2 carries fewer trains, that means less capacity is released on the existing national network, and regional services which expect to see far more trains may have their ambitions cut back as well.
As the letter from London First notes, “to opt for anything less will result in a huge missed opportunity”
The Mayor of the West Midlands and the Leader of Manchester City Council both recognise the UK-wide impact that a capacity crunch at Euston would have on the line.
In the grand scheme of things, the cost-cutting at Euston is barely a rounding error in the cost of the whole project, but would deliver a capacity crippling blow to the whole line that could only be repaired at a later date at enormous cost.