HS2 might not get to open its Euston station until 2040, the Transport Secretary Mark Harper has confirmed to MPs in Parliament, as it wont open before HS2 opens its extension to Manchester.
He also confirmed that the delays to Euston are unlikely to save any money, although that was the reason given for delaying its opening in the first place.
Telling the transport select committee, he said that the changes “reflect the fact that you have a budget in each year, everybody listening to this has to live within their annual budget, as well as a budget over time.”
This fits in with a document that the Labour Party says was leaked to it following the announcement of the previous delay suggesting that the delay was less about saving money, and more about the central government reducing the annual borrowing required each year, which is achieved by spreading the borrowing over more years.
HS2 has also confirmed that they will be delaying work on the Old Oak Common to Euston station tunnels to reflect the changes in priority to focus on the section up to Birmingham.
The tunnel boring machines were due to depart from Old Oak Common towards Euston next year, but that’s now been deferred. The delay cannot be too long though, as they need to launch the TBMs from Old Oak Common before they can start fit-out work for the station. Delaying the Euston tunnel by more than a year would risk pushing back the opening date of Old Oak Common station.
Although Mr Harper reiterated his support for completing the line to Euston, he also said that it “was significantly ahead of the budget that is available and that’s why I’ve taken the decision to pause construction of that project,”
He also explained that the delay to the Euston project would see it likely open at around the same time as HS2 reaches Manchester, which is not expected to be until some point between 2035-2040.
The delays to opening the line also delay or even reduce many of the benefits of the HS2 project. Phase 1 of HS2 (from London to Birmingham) was assessed as ‘low’ value for money; it was only the inclusion of the northern sections of the route that increased the overall value for money.
Pushing back the opening of Euston station, means that the full capacity increase offered by HS2 can’t be realised until the Manchester leg opens. And that means the full capacity gains for local and regional railways across much of middle England are also delayed.
It’s true that Old Oak Common station can just about cope with traffic between London and Birmingham in terms of trains turning around, it would need the capacity of Euston to handle the additional trains going to/from Manchester.
The downside is that thousands of people will be arriving at Old Oak Common and needing to swap to other services to complete their journey into central London, and TfL has already warned that it will need to buy more Elizabeth line trains to be able to cope with the passenger numbers.
A small optimistic note about the delays is that it pretty much forces the government to push on with HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester, even as other spurs are cut back, as the opening of Euston station is now implicitly tied in with the Manchester extension.
The Institute for Government has previously said that the drip-feed announcements of delays to the HS2 railway are “a depressing account of what is wrong with decision-making on large scale infrastructure projects in the UK”
In the meantime, Mr Harper said that they would be vacating the Euston side in a “sensible way for the next couple of years that is sensible for people who live in the area”.
“Then we’re going to go back and look at coming up with a more cost-effective design for Euston,” he added.
However, it’s likely that Euston station will be an empty building site for a couple of years with locked gates and dust billowing around to blight the area for the people who work and live there.