HS2 route emerges as contracts awarded
Deals worth £6.6bn defy high-speed rail plan critics Minister to hasten line’s north-west spur to Crewe
The HS2 high-speed railway will take another step forward today with the award of major construction contracts and the confirmation of the route north of Birmingham through Yorkshire.
Contracts worth about £6.6bn and supporting 16,000 jobs will be announced for civil engineering projects in the first phase of HS2 between London and Birmingham, including tunnels and bridges.
The final route for the second phase, the Y-shaped connections with Manchester and Leeds, will also be confirmed, including changes to the original proposed route around Sheffield. Plans for a dedicated HS2 station at the city’s Meadowhall shopping centre were opposed by Sheffield councillors, and the government is now expected to say the line will follow a slower rail line through the city centre.
The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, will also publish a bill to prioritise phase 2a of HS2, building the line more rapidly as far as Crewe. This could mean a connection further north on the west coast mainline by 2027, six years earlier than first envisaged, enabling quicker journeys to the north-west and Glasgow.
Grayling said the contracts were “a hugely important step in the construction of Britain’s new railway and underlines this government’s determination to deliver an economy that works for all”.
David Higgins, chairman of HS2 Ltd, said: “HS2 was always designed to be much more than just a high-speed railway and today we can see the opportunities it brings right around the country – spreading prosperity, acting as a catalyst for investment and rebalancing our economy 10 years before the railway even opens.”
Opponents of the scheme claimed the government was drastically underestimating the cost, and that construction was already delayed. The overall budget was revised up to £55.7bn, but estimates drawn up this year on behalf of Lord Berkeley, the Rail Freight Group chairman, who had argued at select committees for alternative HS2 routes out of London, suggested it could be as high as £111bn.
Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: “The cost of HS2 has already doubled once since it was first proposed, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that it might double again. With it being so obvious to everyone who lives in the real world that there are so many far more important priorities for public spending, it seems utterly insane that the government are still wedded to this vainglorious vanity project and all its false promises.”
The Department for Transport said that, contrary to some claims, no report it had commissioned showed rising costs. A spokesperson said:“We are keeping a tough grip on costs and the project is on time and on budget at £55.7bn.”
The first major preparatory work for HS2 is starting around Euston station this summer, including the closure of a public park and demolition of hundreds of homes on neighbouring estates, as local residents are braced for up to a decade of disruption. High-speed trains from London to Birmingham are due to start running in 2026.
‘It seems utterly insane that the government is still wedded to this vainglorious project’
The proposed HS2 London terminus at Euston, north London, where preparatory work starts this summer