There are reports this morning that the High Speed 2 railway may be cut back and the central London terminus at Euston cancelled, or at best, seriously delayed.
Citing problems with soaring inflation costs, The Sun newspaper reported overnight that HS2 bosses are considering plans that could delay opening the Euston terminus to 2038, or even scrap it entirely.
That would see passengers having to use the Old Oak Common station in west London instead of central London.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has not denied the report, but said that it’s committed to “delivering HS2 to Manchester, as confirmed in the Autumn Statement”, which neatly avoids discussing where the line will start from – Euston, or Old Oak Common.
There are two scenarios being suggested — to delay or to cancel Euston station.
Euston station is currently estimated at costing circa £2.6 billion, which includes the cost of the new tube station that’ll be built underneath it.
If inflation and cost overruns are the issues, then delaying Euston makes things worse, not better. Even when inflation falls back to something closer to normal levels, prices will still be rising, so the longer it takes to do something the more it costs. Not just in the cost of building materials, but also labour costs as you’re employing staff for more years than planned.
If you want to cut construction costs, you bring forward completion dates, not delay them.
If cancelling Euston is being considered, then you have a huge flattened building site in central London that would need to be cleared again of the HS2 infrastructure that’s already been built, pay huge amounts of compensation to the construction firms, and to the other businesses that have invested in the area in anticipation of HS2 arriving.
It’s been previously estimated that about a quarter of HS2 passengers heading into London will change at Old Oak Common rather than heading to central London, but that still means the majority of HS2 passengers will want to get to Euston and beyond. If you were to stop at Old Oak Common, a fully upgraded Elizabeth line to 34 trains per hour could probably, at a pinch, just about cope — but that would require a big increase in the train fleet and an additional depot to house them. The cost of that would likely exceed the £1 billion cost of the current fleet of trains.
So the cost of upgrading the Elizabeth line to carry the passengers and the cost of closing down the Euston station construction site along with the compensation claims would be staggering — in fact, quite likely higher than the cost of completing the station anyway.
The other issue is space — there simply isn’t enough space at Old Oak Common for it to be the permanent terminus for HS2. There were concerns raised when Euston’s HS2 expansion was cut from 11 platforms to 10, so imagine if it was replaced with Old Oak Common’s 6 platforms. That’s just about enough capacity to cope with the number of trains when the line opens to Birmingham, but there’s nothing like enough space at Old Oak Common to handle trains coming from Birmingham AND Manchester.
Cancelling Euston station would imperil HS2 in the north of England. Levelling up?
As the DfT says it’s committed to delivering HS2 to Manchester — that makes Euston station essential to the project.
Frankly, the Sun newspaper’s suggestion that Euston station could be cancelled is laughable.
Delays are possible, but just a few weeks ago, I was informed that the project is still targeting the first half of the 2029-33 opening window for the railway. Delaying Euston is still possible, as it’s already going to open after the rest of the line anyway — but that only pushes up the costs, which is the opposite of what’s being aimed for.
The newspaper report cites former No10 Transport Adviser Andrew Gilligan, and it’s well known that he is a vocal opponent of the railway project, and they also have a quote from Gregg Smith MP who sits on Parliament’s Transport Select Committee calling HS2 a “white elephant”. He attacks HS2 as just delivering slightly faster journeys when his constituents “just want to get a seat at rush hour” and yet more rush hour seats for local commuters is exactly what HS2 is will enable to happen.
When HS2 opens, many of the existing intercity trains that arrive at Euston will be replaced by HS2 services — leaving loads of empty platforms and loads of space on the existing commuter railway lines — which means more space for more trains and more seats for commuters.
For an MP sitting on a transport committee to be unaware of that is, frankly, baffling.
UPDATE 12:10pm: As a post-speech Q&A this morning, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt confirmed that HS2 will reach Euston after all — although no comment on if there will be any delays to it opening.