HS2 Chairman Higgins is calling for an acceleration of phase two of the high-speed rail program from London to the north of England.
Proposed route would open development in England's north, backers say.

The U.K. Transportation Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has accepted new recommendations to accelerate construction of the country’s second high speed railroad. Among other changes to the estimated $83-billion, two-phase HS2 project to win government support is an entirely new grand terminus at Euston, in London.

McLoughlin’s decision endorses key recommendations in the March 17 review by David Higgins, the new chairman of the project company High Speed 2 Ltd., (HS2Ltd.). Higgins’s appointment followed his widely acclaimed leadership of the infrastructure and venue programme for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympics Games.

Phase one of HS2 is currently being reviewed by the U.K. parliament and is expected to secure final approval no sooner than 2015, if at all. As now planned, phase one would create a line between London and Birmingham nearly 200 km to north-west. A second phase, starting six years later, would extend HS2 by 189 km to Leeds and 153 km to Manchester.

However, Higgins is calling for an acceleration of phase two to promote more economic development in northern England. Only a quarter of the country’s top 100 corporations are outside the London region, he points out.

Higgins calls for phase one to be extended 100 km to Crewe where a new hub would be built to serve northern conurbations. “If plans were accelerated, then I believe the North could benefit six years earlier than planned [in] 2027,” he says.

Higgins also recommends building a new terminus at London Euston rather than adding platforms to the current building, as now proposed. The existing 50-year-old station “is getting close to its sell-by date,” he says. Built largely below grade, the new station would allow substantial residential and commercial development above.

To save money and reduce disruption in north London, Higgins wants the planned link with the existing HS1 line to the Channel Tunnel scrapped. The government has agreed to eliminate the $1.1-billion connection. Altogether, Higgins says the $39-billion phase one estimate, including $5 billion for rolling stock “is enough.” 

Higgins’ adherence to the project’s existing budget is “remarkable” comments Richard Threlfall, head of Infrastructure, Building and Construction at the financial consultant KPM, London. “Higgins’s big challenge was the political pressure to reduce the forecast of the current [$83 billion] estimated cost,” he says.

Higgins’ comments did nothing to placate HS2’s fierce opponents, who describe the report as “the sixth relaunch of the beleaguered project.” After his review of costs Higgins “hasn’t found a single bean,” complains Joe Rukin, a manager for the Stop HS2 campaign.

But Nick Baveystock, director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers is supportive. As well as “far reaching” benefits, accelerating the programme would result in “cost savings…from greater continuity between the two project phases and the positive impact on the U.K.’s engineering skills base,” he claims.