Speed cut for HS2?

Rail (UK) - - Contents - Paul Stephen As­sis­tant Fea­tures Edi­tor [email protected]­me­dia.co.uk @paul_rail

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

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