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.

Early visualisation of an HS2 train

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.

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23 comments
  1. Keith says:

    Considering work on redeveloping Euston and preparing it for HS2 has already begun it seems a bit late to be considering potentially delaying or cancelling it. Surely any delay would add to the cost due to inflation and only shift the costs into future financial years.

    These sort of concerns should have been considered years ago before the go-ahead to HS2 was given, not once construction has begun. I dread to think how much money has already been wasted by changing the design and plans for Euston station after the initial design had been approved, supposedly to save money.

  2. Alistair Twin says:

    If i was a betting man, i’d say they might remove euston from the crossrail budget, but still build it with someone elses money or as part of a different package..(perhaps as some sort of advance part of crossrail2???)

    regarding capacity.. I suspect OOC would do ok, if they include enough stabling etc in the lines between there and euston, maybe some sort of turn-around platform on the euston site for cleaning/restaffing / restocking etc.

    but as you say likely nonsense.

    • ChrisC says:

      And who is that someone else going to be? They’d have to spend a heck of a lot of money before anyone can use the station and charge them rent / access fees.

      And if you are sending trains to Euston for cleaning then you might as well allow passengers on them as well.

      Imagine the headlines in a decades time “I can’t get to Euston yet the trains still go there!!!”

  3. Brian Butterworth says:

    I’m still of the opinion that HS2 in Central London should have been a Liz-line style two-platform station under Euston with the terminator out someone in the sticks (say at Gatwick) to keep the costs of doing things to Euston low.

    I know everyone else in the whole world hates Euston (because of some Doric pastiche arch) but it is both functional and accessible.

    If you’re taking a very quick trip to Brum or Manchester why does it need to be treated like people will be flying to Mars.

    • ianVisits says:

      You’d need a minimum of 6 platforms at Euston to cope — and along with the need for the new concourse and tube links, would not be significantly cheaper than the current plans — and you still need to pay for the tunnels and the eventual terminus elsewhere.

      To put it into context – the Elizabeth line stations, with just two platforms cost on average £600 million each – now scale that to 6 platforms.

    • ChrisC says:

      Barely enough room at Gatwick at the moment for the existing services. Literally no where to add any more platforms there without knocking stuff down.

      And that’s before you get to the bottle necks around East Croydon that will cost a shed load of cash to sort out.

    • Ben says:

      A link to HS1 with an underground double ended “Euston St Pancras” station, served by a proportion of the trains, would have enabled a much smaller Euston terminus.

      The trains linking to HS1 could have replaced the Javelin service to Ashford International, calling at Stratford and Ebbsfleet. This would provide an interchange with HS1 at Ebbsfleet and make use of HS1 infrastructure which is currently under utilised, or closed entirely.

      You are now building two smaller stations instead of one large one, but the land purchase cost would be reduced. This also provides useful additional interchange options.

      It may not have reduced costs but in my opinion it is a more beneficial railway which would have offered better value for the money invested.

  4. Max Christian says:

    Yes but Manchester.

    Many of the same arguments apply up there but moreso. If one end is to be curtailed or delayed, it makes total sense for it to be the central London section.

  5. Graham says:

    I see OOC is between Paddington and Acton Main Line stations. There are already reports of overcrowding on commuter services coming in from the west thanks to Heathrow passengers using the cheaper alternative to the H. Express (even if it stops more often). Another factor to consider in the final decision? Also Elizabeth Line has not reached peak frequency …

    • ChrisC says:

      I’m wondering how much of this “over crowding” is real or because people can’t be bothered to walk further down the train / platform and get a seat.

      I’ve seen people at crowd around the end of the platform closest to the escalators whereas walk along even a short distance the carriages have plenty of seats.

      And the Heathrow services aren’t going to affect people at the far west of the line anyway.

  6. MilesT says:

    Even with the HS2 terminating at Euston, I’m not sure I believe the “only 25% will interchange at OOC” estimate, so OOC may have a capacity issue unless the interchange was limited by not having most HS2 trains calling at OOC.

    Any savvy passenger wanting to get to most locations south of Oxford street or Paddington and points west, or Stratford and points east would likely want to get on the Elizabeth at OOC to get closer to destination or a suitable interchange, rather than cramming onto Victoria line to interchange again at e.g. Oxford Circus (for Central) or Green Park (for Jubilee, Piccadilly). There are thin corridors of destinations southwards where changing to Victoria or Northern at Euston would make more sense.

  7. Julian says:

    The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is now downplaying the speculation and does not see “any conceivable circumstances” in which the Euston terminus will not go ahead as planned.

  8. Andrew says:

    What a stupid idea. I do wish mps like Greg Smith who supposedly represents me would shut up about hs2 and focus on important things like the economy. What alsocosts money on these projects is people moaning constantly after they’ve lost the argument and work is proceeding

  9. JW says:

    If HST does not extend to a major central London terminus and good conections to the rest of the rail network and Europe, it will be a still-birth. This would be too embarracing for any UK government and a major loss of prestige and confidence in the country and London itself, from within and without.

    Its hard to see where savings can be made any more. Perhaps the reconstruction of the Euston Arch could be delayed, but this is hardly going to make a dent, or even a dimple, to the overall project budget. This project is now well past the point of no return, and the government and public well understands this.

  10. Mike says:

    Instead of connecting to Euston, they should connect Old Oak Common to the HS1 in Stratford International so trains from Manchester can go directly to the Chunnel.

    • ChrisC says:

      And how is that connection going to be provided from OOC in the west to Stratford in the east ???

  11. Andy T says:

    I can almost imagine a site like this in 70 years time writing an article on this and the reasons behind it. Perhaps work will be under way around that time to link the 2 high speed railways even.

    Perhaps the OOC area will be greatly redeveloped in that time and the comments will be about how it worked out for the best, but it certainly seems a short sighted plan now, and as has been said, surely too much money has already been spent to abandon Euston now.

  12. Chris Rogers says:

    Ironic – or fitting – that more or less the same argument bedevilled the British Library down the road from Euston through the late 60s and 70s. Which is why only about 60% of what was intended was ever built, and that in many sub-stages that, for the same reason, were massively more expensive each time.

  13. nicholas lewis says:

    DfT are short of cash to deliver all the capital projects and that includes roads as well. So this was deliberate leaking to push a reaction and with Hunt basically saying it will happens means he has find the DfT extra cash now.

    Perhaps also making a functional station like Euston is now would mean it could be done for a lot less money Why do we need gfancy architecturally expensive stations on the project im travelling on a train not going for a shopping experience.

    • ChrisC says:

      Lol EUS is a barely functional station as it is now.

      Even without HS2 it could do with knocking down to remove many of the bottle necks that impede easy entrance and exit. There is barely room on the concourse for the people waiting for the next couple of trains at the moment.

      The “fancy” architecture really doesn’t add that much to the costs. Plus build a simple box and more people would complain that it’s only a box. These are structures that will last for decades.

  14. SteveP says:

    The “HS2 is about to be cancelled/curtailed” gets floated by “the usual suspects” (people like Gilligan, Berkeley, Smith, et al) once or twice a year (often accompanied by their “independent” cost estimate that’s always gone up 10-30Bn.) There’s a day of newspaper headlines and media hysteria before the Govt. deny it and everything carries on as before.

    Smith knows full well what the benefits of HS2 are to his constituents. Smith lies about HS2 – even to the Committee he sits on – one could believe because he wants to keep his job and not get de-selected by the local constituency party.

    I also reject the conspiracy theory that’s been floated in left wing circles that this is some kind of Dead Cat story leaked by Government to distract from the Zahawi affair – look what the source of the story is – Gilligan, Berkeley et al, none of who are in Government or even close to it at time of writing.

    They and their friends amongst the NIMBY’s/Gammons/Kippers are very much in the “public sulking” stage of grief having not got their own way over HS2. It’s as if they think “if we just sulk hard enough, it’ll all go away.”

  15. Simon says:

    I believe there are firm plans to sort out the east Croydon bottleneck with under and over passes and moving the whole station the other side of the road but as with most of the big rail projects money post covid is likely to be the hold up

    but of all the project Ian has reported, this one will think happened as will fix multiple problems with that line

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