The Daily Telegraph
Brake on HS2 services in effort to save money
Fewer trains and slower speeds considered as part of measures to rein in spending on £72bn project
The number of trains running on HS2 will be almost halved and services will travel more slowly in a proposed shake-up of the £72bn line. Whitehall officials are considering reducing the number of trains from 18 to 10 an hour, say insiders, while plans for services to run at up to 220mph may be shelved. The proposals are among a series of cost-cutting measures being considered as ministers grapple with huge inflationary pressures on Britain’s biggest infrastructure project.
THE number of trains running on HS2 will be almost halved and services will travel more slowly in a proposed shake-up of the £72bn line as ministers scramble to save money.
Whitehall officials are considering reducing the number of trains from 18 to 10 an hour, insiders said. Meanwhile, plans to run services at up to 220mph are in jeopardy as officials weigh whether to reduce speeds.
The proposals are among a series of cost-cutting measures under discussion as part of an overhaul codenamed “project silverlight” and “operation blue diamond”, as ministers grapple with huge inflationary pressures on Britain’s biggest infrastructure project.
The Department for Transport last night refused to rule out reducing the frequency and speed of HS2 trains.
A spokesman said: “We do not comment on speculation. Spades are in the ground on the HS2 programme. It will better connect regions across the UK, provide a greener option of travel and is supporting tens of thousands of jobs.
“We remain committed to delivering the project from Euston to Manchester.”
It came as Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, criticised Labour’s plan to nationalise the railways, describing it as a “soggy sandwich wrapped in a cling film of backward thinking”.
In a speech laying out his vision for the future of train travel, Mr Harper said that nationalisation had already been “tried and ultimately thrown out”.
With all the focus on speed in the early years of its planning, HS2 was originally designed to run services at up to 250mph. This was reduced to an average of 205mph and maximum of 220mph once contracts to build new trains were awarded. A journey at these speeds would still be faster than anything internationally with the exception of China, however, the latest review of the HS2 for the Government found.
Up to 10pc of HS2’S building costs could be saved if a requirement for such “super high speeds” was abandoned, according to the 2020 report, which was written by Sir Doug Oakervee, the former HS2 and Crossrail chairman.
Lord Berkeley, the deputy chairman of Sir Doug’s review, believes significant amounts of money could be saved if speeds were reduced to 125mph.
In a letter to Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, and Mr Harper, the Labour peer said that running services at this slower speed would reduce costs by allowing HS2 to better integrate with the rest of Britain’s rail infrastructure and stations.
He said: “Why do you need to get to London 30 minutes quicker when you have Wi-fi and your laptop on the train?
“I suggest that ministers should look at options for radically cutting the costs of what is left of HS2.”
Reducing the frequency of trains to just 10 an hour would mean fewer platforms are needed at HS2 stations.
It could also pave the way for higher specifications designed to accommodate a larger number of trains to be scrapped – for example, holding the tracks together with standard ballast instead of expensive concrete slabs.
Mr Hunt last month insisted it is “inconceivable” that HS2 will not run to central London following reports that the line would stop at Old Oak Common. It has since emerged that an “nuclear” option under consideration by transport officials would be to build a terminus at the west London station rather than Euston.
The prospect of cuts was yesterday criticised by HS2 advocates.
A spokesman for the High Speed Rail Group said: “Re-specifying or simply delaying the project will mean loosening proper controls on the project and we desperately need the growth and productivity benefits HS2 will bring in order to fight the cost of living crisis.”
Official figures estimate the cost of HS2 phase 1 and 2a will be £42.5bn with a western leg of phase 2b costing £17bn. The work that will replace the eastern spur is forecast to cost £12.8bn, taking the total to £72.3bn.
Separately, wildlife charities said that the construction of HS2 is destroying more than twice as much nature as originally estimated.