The government has cast more doubt on the full plans for the HS2 railway, announcing delays to the existing planned railway and rethinking further extensions.

In a written statement to Parliament, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said that the priority now for the railway is to deliver the line between London’s Old Oak Common and Birmingham’s Curzon Street stations.

However, there will be some more rethinking of the station design at Euston to keep costs down, to deliver it alongside the extension from Birmingham to Crewe and Manchester. However the extension north of Birmingham will open two years later than planned, with the line to Crewe now opening in around 2036, and the line to Manchester not opening for another 20 years — arriving in 2043. However, those dates are not confirmed, only that a delay of a few years is expected, and a lack of certainty when the railway will open holds back investment by companies in the areas that would benefit from the line.

With the linking of Euston station to the Birmingham extension in the Minister’s statement, it’s implied that Euston station, currently expected to open by 2036 could also be delayed into the 2040s.

These delays also mean that people who live or work near HS2 construction sites can expect to live next to the disruption for many years more than they had been led to believe.

On that issue, the Leader of Camden Council, Councillor Georgia Gould says that “The community around Euston have lost homes, schools and businesses to HS2. They’ve already lived through years of disruption with no end in sight. If there is a delay, HS2 must not forget the promises they made to our community and must continue to deliver on them.”

The minister also confirmed that they work to develop HS2 East, the proposed route for HS2 services between the West and East Midlands, and to consider the most effective way to take HS2 trains to Leeds.

The announcement from the government didn’t go down well, with the business organisation, the CBI with John Foster, the CBI’s policy unit programme director saying that “this news will ultimately reduce investor and contractor confidence in the rail sector.”

“Delays to projects may create short-term savings, but they can ultimately lead to higher overall costs and slow down the UK’s transition to a better, faster and greener transport network”

Again, the talk is all about cost-cutting for the current generation, not building a railway infrastructure that will be around for 200 years at the very least.

Considering the transformational impact that HS2 was intended to deliver, offering fast links between cities and freeing up huge amounts of capacity to boost regional and commuter travel, cutting into HS2’s capacity to deliver at a time when costs are rising is to leave the country with the risk of an expensive railway that offers limited benefits. Much of the benefit accrues from the second phase of the railway, so building the first bit and delaying the rest is a phyric victory for the bean counters.

The government has already spent £20 billion on the HS2 railway over the past decade, and as it’s funded by infrastructure borrowing which is repaid over decades, it’s not a constraint on current spending on services (hospitals, schools etc), so cost-cutting today simply impoverishes the future generations who will use the railway.

That £20 billion spent over the past decade pales in comparison to the £40 billion the government will spend over just the next two years on transport infrastructure upgrades.  HS2’s annual cost is less than a tenth of that, so the impact on government spending of pushing ahead with HS2 as quickly as possible is minimal.

As TfL learned to its cost with the Elizabeth line, delays not only push up the cost of building the railway, they also delay when you can start earning money from it. Delays are a double hit to the purse.

Andy Bagnall, chief executive for the industry group, Rail Partners said “While inflationary pressures make infrastructure projects more challenging, it is critical for Britain’s economy and meeting net zero targets that large sections of HS2 are not delayed which will ultimately increase the overall cost.”

In his statement to Parliament, the Minister cited high inflation at the moment as a reason to delay the railway, but inflation doesn’t go negative unless something very bad happens to the economy, so delaying the project doesn’t save money, it makes it even more expensive. The only way that a delay can save money is if the savings identified exceeds the rate of inflation, and that would require such a substantial cut to the railway that it would render much of its function redundant.

At the moment, the scheme is building a large railway bypass between London and Birmingham, but over half the capacity boosting the capacity of the railway only kicks in with the extensions to Manchester and Leeds, which are now delayed, or outright cancelled.

This is an infrastructure project that’s supposed to be improving transport between the cities well into the 23rd century. That’s not supposed to be the opening date.


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  1. ChrisC says:

    Just stop messing around with the plans

    Constant chopping and changing ends up costing more not less money!

    When the government delayed crossrail in 2010 by a year to save a billion they actually ended up spending more not less.

  2. AndrewZ says:

    ChrisC is right, every change and delay makes it more expensive.

    I was against HS2 because I didn’t think that the benefits were sufficient to justify the enormous cost. But it would be absolute folly to introduce some nonsensical political fudge now, which would reduce the benefits while increasing the costs even further!

    • nickrl says:

      Like you i was anti HS2 given far more transport infrastructure could have been upgraded to benefit a much larger section of the population quicker but now they’ve started it they need to get on with it The existing timescales are ludicrous already and they ought to have been accelerating it not slowing it down to save on overheads.

  3. JP says:

    It’s beginning to make me wonder if there’ll ever be a government “man” enough to take a deep breath, cast aside any thoughts of re-election being the be-all and end-all behind every decision it makes and remember that its members are grown-ups, servants of the people and tasked with taking decisions for the benefit of the electorate, the country and those as-yet unborn.
    Grow a pair for goodness sake!

  4. Chris Rogers says:

    Approriately, give it’s just along from Euston, this is the saga of the new British Library all over again: a grand design that is sliced into smaller and small chunks that each needs approval but is also delayed, queried and altered before eventually being built. Or not – the existing BL is about 2/3 of what was intended. Caveat emptor.

  5. MatW says:

    Shame the link between HS1 & HS2 was knocked on the head early on…

    With more destinations being added to the Eurostar (& it’s proposed competitor) it seems daft we’re not able to offer direct services. Even if they provision for stopping at OOC, before heading north.

    Euston is a funny one… if a HS1/2 link was made, Euston could’ve been simplified to a through running… if some HS2 services are planned to terminate at OOC, then a few could use the unused Eurostar platforms at Stratford Int.

    We’re building new, and have the opportunity to ensure provisions are there to enable such opportunities. Delays always equal costs….
    I almost feel cancel Euston in favour of providing better links north.

  6. Alan Longley says:

    OOC would seem a good choice for the london terminus. It would be a good interchange for heathrow for instance using the Elisabeth line.

    • ChrisC says:

      Not sure what you mean since HS2 will be stopping at OOC and Lizzie will also be stopping there so plenty of connections twixt the two.

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