High speed rail line may cut costs by run­ning slower trains

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Mattha Busby

HS2 could be forced to run fewer trains at slower speeds to keep the high speed rail project within bud­get, the com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive has said.

The gov­ern­ment-backed de­vel­op­ment has faced crit­i­cism for “mis­lead­ing MPs” with price es­ti­mates that were hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds too low.

It has now emerged that the leader of the Com­mons, An­drea Lead­som, ques­tioned the vi­a­bil­ity of the project at a meet­ing of the all-party par­lia­men­tary rail group in Novem­ber, prompt­ing HS2 to sug­gest a num­ber of po­ten­tial cost-cut­ting mea­sures.

In a let­ter fol­low­ing the meet­ing, Lead­som told HS2 Ltd’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Mark Thurston, that she was aware he had con­ceded that “a num­ber of changes to the project may have to be con­sid­ered in or­der to keep it within bud­get and on time”.

The op­tions dis­cussed in­cluded po­ten­tially low­er­ing train speeds of up to 225mph by about 30mph, chang­ing from a slab to a bal­last track and re­duc­ing the num­ber of trains per hour from 18 to 14, ac­cord­ing to Lead­som, the MP for South Northamp­ton­shire, through which the HS2 route will pass.

“My con­stituents are nat­u­rally con­cerned that changes to the project could un­der­mine the busi­ness case, neg­a­tively af­fect the ben­e­fit-cost ra­tio, and re­duce the value for tax­pay­ers’ money,” she said.

Re­spond­ing, Thurston said HS2 was in the process of en­sur­ing the project was “on time and within bud­get”. He said Lead­som had “cor­rectly” re­ferred to a num­ber of op­tions to re­duce costs that he set out when asked at the par­lia­men­tary group’s meet­ing.

“How­ever, I was also clear that HS2 Ltd is work­ing to the scope and bud­get of the project which the gov­ern­ment has set, and for which de­tailed de­bate in par­lia­ment has taken place,” he said in a writ­ten re­sponse.

Phase 1 of the £56bn link is due to open be­tween Lon­don and Birm­ing­ham in De­cem­ber 2026 be­fore the rail­way is ex­tended to Crewe, Manch­ester and Leeds. A spokesman for HS2 Ltd de­clined fur­ther com­ment.

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