Transport for London (TfL) is warning that delays to the HS2 railway may require it to buy more Elizabeth line trains to cope with the thousands of people dropped off at Old Oak Common needing to get into central London.
The issue is that HS2 has pushed back when Euston station will open until the 2040s, leaving Old Oak Common station as the terminus for much longer than was currently expected. That means thousands of HS2 passengers will need to get to and from Old Oak Common station instead of Euston.
Although Old Oak Common station is being built specifically as an interchange station and was always intended to connect with the GWR and Elizabeth lines, only around a quarter of HS2 passengers were expected to swap services at the station.
With the delay to Euston station opening, this now means that when HS2 opens, all its passengers will need to swap services at Old Oak Common.
Physically, the station will be able to cope, as it’s built to handle traffic for the full HS2 line – and expects to handle as many as 250,000 passengers every day. Under the current plans Old Oak Common would be the London terminus for HS2 up to Birmingham, and by the time HS2 reaches Manchester, then Euston station will be open as well, and it has the capacity to cope with the additional passengers.
However, in the interim, all HS2 trains will stop at Old Oak Common, and not many passengers will want to stay there.
For people heading to west London, it’s always been expected that many will likely take GWR trains to Paddington. However, the majority of people are expected to want to head into central London, either as the destination or to swap onto London Underground lines — and that means the Elizabeth line will have to absorb vastly larger numbers of passengers than it is already carrying.
In an ideal world, TfL would be able to send some empty Elizabeth line trains stabled in a depot to the west of Old Oak Common station, but the location of the main depot rules that out.
This means that already crowded Elizabeth line trains will pull into Old Oak Common station and will need to pick up thousands of HS2 passengers trying to get into central London.
An empty Elizabeth line train can carry 1,500 passengers, but the trains won’t arrive empty, and HS2 trains will be able to carry at least 1,100 passengers each and are likely to be pretty full when they arrive.
That causes a problem.
In its latest board papers, TfL has said that the delays to HS2 station at Euston means that it will have to buy more trains for the Elizabeth line to cope with passenger demand at Old Oak Common.
Although HS2 isn’t expected to open until some point between 2029-33, TfL is warning that it will need to place the orders for the new trains soon, as the cost of doing so later will be significantly more expensive. That’s because the factory lines to build Elizabeth line trains at Alstom’s factory in Derbyshire are still in place, but will be demobilised soon. If the trains aren’t ordered before that happens, then the cost of reactivating the factory lines has to be included in the bill.
This is fairly routine when ordering trains — an initial order is made, and the contracts will include an option to buy additional trains at a comparable price, so long as the order is placed before the factory realigns its layout for a different order.
Although TfL is now expecting to break even in terms of its day to day operations, it will rely on the government to fund investments in new trains, and has warned that it needs confirmation from the government that funding will be offered to buy the additional Elizabeth line trains.
Ordinarily, in major infrastructure projects, if there’s mitigation needed to deal with its impact, then the cost is applied to the project. So, for example, if a project requires a local road to be redirected, its the project that picks up the cost.
In this situation, although TfL would eventually need to buy more Elizabeth line trains to cope with passenger growth – that purchase is likely being brought forward much earlier than expected and because of cost-cutting delays imposed on HS2 by the central government.
And yet, it would be conventional for HS2 to pick up the cost of the mitigations being required – so a cost saving measure at Euston station has the potential to cost more than it saves because of the extra Elizabeth line trains that are needed to cope with the delay.
TfL is warning that if it is unable to place the order for the additional Elizabeth line trains soon, then “failing to do so would mean delays and higher costs to remobilise the workforce, source materials and ensure the additional trains are ready to enter service.”
Although a bit of a mess in London, it’s good news for the workforce in Derbyshire who get the contract to build more trains.
One other issue though is where to put the additional trains.
Depending on how many are needed to absorb HS2’s passengers, there’s a potential requirement for an additional depot for the Elizabeth line to be built. The depot at Plumstead may have the potential to be expanded, but it would suit the requirements of the HS2 mitigation to have a depot to the west of London, where they could then run relatively empty trains into Old Oak Common station.
That of course pushes the bill up even more.
And all these additional costs are because of an attempt to save money by delaying the HS2 station at Euston.