High Speed fi­asco

HS2 could go 30mph slower… And a fifth of ser­vices face axe

Daily Mail - - News - By James Salmon Trans­port Editor

HS2 may have to run slower and less fre­quent trains to slash costs, its chief ex­ec­u­tive has ad­mit­ted.

The state-backed firm over­see­ing the high-speed line is mulling over plans to limit the speed of trains by 30mph.

It is also con­sid­er­ing re­duc­ing the num­ber of ser­vices per hour by a fifth, from 18 to 14 each way, which would cut the ca­pac­ity of the line by the equiv­a­lent of around 8,800 pas­sen­gers per hour dur­ing peak times.

Last night one cam­paigner warned that it is ‘quite con­ceiv­able’ that some jour­neys to Birm­ing­ham on the high-speed line may be slower than at the mo­ment.

The plans were re­vealed by HS2 Ltd’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Mark Thurston, at a meet­ing with MPs to­wards the end of last year. Trains were due to hit a max­i­mum speed of 225mph, but he warned that they may have to be slowed down, at times, by around 30mph in or­der to have any chance of stick­ing to its £56bil­lion bud­get. This would have to be done, in par­tic­u­lar, when go­ing through some tun­nels be­cause oth­er­wise ex­tra, and more ex­pen­sive, en­gi­neer­ing work would be needed on the tun­nels to cope with the high speed.

Tun­nels for high-speed trains usu­ally have to be wider than those for slower trains and ex­tra measures have to be taken to deal with the greater air pres­sure and ex­tra noise.

Phase One of the rail link, be­tween Lon­don and Birm­ing­ham, is sched­uled to open in De­cem­ber 2026 be­fore it is ex­tended to Crewe, Manch­ester and Leeds.

High- speed trains were planned to re­duce the jour­ney time from Lon­don to Birm­ing­ham from one hour, 21 min­utes to 49 min­utes, and to cut the jour­ney time from Lon­don to Manch­ester by an hour, from two hours, eight min­utes to one hour, eight min­utes.

De­tails of the meet­ing of the All-Party Par­lia­men­tary Rail Group in Novem­ber were re­vealed in a let­ter from Leader of the Com­mons An­drea Lead­som to Mr Thurston, re­ported in The Sun­day Tele­graph.

Mrs Lead­som, the MP for South Northamp­ton­shire, through which the HS2 route would run, wrote: ‘ Given the busi­ness case for HS2 was first pred­i­cated upon speed, then on ca­pac­ity, then finally on im­prov­ing con­nec­tiv­ity with the North, can I ask how these changes would im­pact on the vi­a­bil­ity of the project?

‘ My con­stituents are con­cerned that changes to the project could un­der­mine the busi­ness case… and re­duce the value for tax­pay­ers’ money.’

HS2 trains from Lon­don Eus­ton will not travel to Birm­ing­ham New Street Sta­tion, in the heart of the city, or to Birm­ing­ham In­ter­na­tional, near the air­port. In­stead, they will travel to the newly built HS2 Cur­zon Street sta­tion, about 15 min­utes walk from New Street.

This means that – when com­bin­ing the slower speed and the ex­tra trans­fer time from Cur­zon Street sta­tion – it may ac­tu­ally take the same time as it does at present to get from Lon­don to the heart of Birm­ing­ham.

HS2 has said that by the time it is com­pleted, pas­sen­gers will be able to take a new tram to con­nect to New Street and Birm­ing­ham In­ter­na­tional.

But Joe Rukin, cam­paign man­ager of Stop HS2, said: ‘It is quite con­ceiv­able that if HS2 trains are slowed down some pas­sen­gers could face longer jour­neys on HS2 than they do to­day. HS2’s busi­ness case has been based on su­per­fast trains and 18 ser­vices an hour. If this does not hap­pen, its en­tire busi­ness case is be­ing de­stroyed.’

Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling has em­pha­sised that HS2 is as much about eas­ing con­ges­tion on over­crowded trains as it is about speed.

But the Govern­ment’s claim that HS2 would pro­vide up to 59,400 seats from Lon­don to Birm­ing­ham dur­ing the three-hour af­ter­noon peak was based on the as­sump­tion that the ser­vice could op­er­ate up to 18 trains an hour in each direction be­tween Lon­don and Birm­ing­ham.

A string of re­ports have warned that Bri­tain’s big­gest ever in­fra­struc­ture project will blow its £56bil­lion bud­get, with experts es­ti­mat­ing it could cost as much as £104bil­lion.

In Septem­ber, the Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice re­vealed that the es­ti­mated cost of buy­ing land on the HS2 route be­tween Lon­don and Birm­ing­ham alone has tripled in six years to £3bil­lion.

Re­spond­ing to Mrs Lead­som, Mr Thurston said it is HS2’s ‘ in­ten­tion... to ensure the project is de­liv­ered on time and within bud­get’. He said he had been re­spond­ing to ques­tions ‘about what could be done to change scope in an ef­fort to re­duce cost’.

‘Busi­ness case is be­ing de­stroyed’

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