Speed cut for HS2?
HS2 Ltd considers downgrading the line speed and frequency of London-Birmingham trains, to reduce costs.
THE anticipated line speed and service frequency of HS2 Phase 1 could be downgraded next year, in a bid to save costs.
HS2 Ltd Chief Executive Mark Thurston has told MPs that the line between London Euston and Birmingham Curzon Street may no longer be an 18 trains per hour railway with line speeds of up to 250mph, when it opens in 2026.
The company is currently developing an updated Phase 1 cost estimate, before completing a full business case and starting the main civil engineering works in June 2019.
Thurston said he remained confident that Phase 1 would stay within its original funding envelope of £27.18 billion, but that tough choices might need to be made in the next few months to prevent costs from rising any further.
The announcement follows a report in the Sunday Times on November 18, claiming that costs for the Phase 1 main works civil contracts had come in “several billion pounds” over the official £6.6bn budget, and that HS2 Ltd was now in talks with contractors to close the gap.
“We’re very clear that there is a budget for HS2 and that our job is to build the railway to budget because there is no more money,” Thurston told a meeting of the AllParty Parliamentary Rail Group at Westminster on November 20.
“Our expectation is that Phase 1 will cost £27.2bn and that HS2 will cost £56bn in total. As we converge on the business case review and rerun the business case next year, where we have cost pressures we will need to look at all the current requirements with the Department for Transport.
“It’s a complex model and our job is to come up with the best value for money answer. As part of the business case analysis we absolutely need to make operational cost versus operational benefit trade-offs, and our job in the next nine months is to come up with the optimal model.”
The High Speed Rail (LondonWest Midlands) Act 2017, which authorises construction of HS2 Phase 1, does not specify the line as an 18tph railway with 250mph running, although this has formed the basis for most of HS2 Ltd’s calculations and modelling of the project’s impacts and benefits.
Thurston suggested that reducing frequency to 14tph and decreasing line speeds in tunnels might now be necessary in order to meet Phase 1’s strict cost parameters.
He told MPs: “18tph requires the laying of slab track, which I think would be wrong to undo because
switching to a cheaper ballast solution would be a higher longerterm cost. But when we go from 18tph running to 14tph running you can start to see the [cost] sensitivity with the infrastructure that’s required to support it.
“It could also be optimal in longer tunnels like the Chiltern Tunnel to slow trains down slightly, which adds a couple of minutes to journey times but takes tens of millions of pounds out of the equation.”
Thurston has also hinted that cost estimates, which are currently set in 2015 prices, will be updated in the Government’s next Spending Review that is scheduled to take place at some point in 2019.
He added: “We’ve held 2015 prices ever since I joined (21 months ago), and we are discussing various scenarios with the Treasury ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review next year which is an opportunity to reset to 2019 prices. This is an accounting measure and something I would expect to happen.”
“Our job is to come up with the best value for money answer.”
Mark Thurston, Chief Executive, HS2 Ltd