Rail experts this week warned that the construction programme for the High Speed Two line is already in jeopardy, even before public consultation has begun.
Steer Davies Gleave managing director Jim Steer said that although the scheme had “pretty good” top down political support he had doubts that the 2015 deadline for start of construction could be met.
Steer was speaking at NCE’s High Speed Rail Summit. He said that the current plan of aiming for Royal Assent for a Hybrid Bill in 2013 is too late, and that the delay is threatening the project’s start date.
“[Meeting the 2015 start date] would be a damn sight more probable if the Hybrid Bill was planned for 2012 and not 2013,” said Steer.
“[It] would be a damn sight more probable if the Hybrid Bill was planned for 2012 and not 2013”
Jim Steer, Steer Davies Gleave
Government company High Speed Two chairman Sir Brian Briscoe agreed that meeting the start date would be a “big challenge”.
The 204km route plan from London to Birmingham revealed by transport secretary Philip Hammond in December will this week go out to public consultation, which is set to last until the end of July.
Two consultations will be carried out concurrently − one on the overall strategy for high speed rail and one on the detailed route between London and Birmingham.
Briscoe said that this was set to be one of the biggest consultations ever undertaken. He added that once complete, an independent review would be carried out to scrutinise all work done so far.
Nichols Group executive director and ICE president Peter Hansford agreed with Steer that the tight programme would be a challenge.
The current plan involves a phased opening from 2026, but some think there has not yet been enough of a firm commitment from government to this date.
“The key thing that has kept the London 2012 programme on track is the fixed and immovable end date,” he said.
“That is key for any project, and it’s not something I’ve yet heard with High Speed Two.”
Arup global rail leader Colin Stewart, also addressing the conference, highlighted that while High Speed Two calls for much more work than High Speed 1, there is no more time in the programme.
Stewart worked on High Speed 1 and is now working on the route consultation for High Speed Two. He said it was possible to deliver to time, but only if the right programme management is brought in at the right time.
“It is possible […] but an experienced delivery agent is going to be needed to make this work,” he said.
“There is a potential shortage of [programme management] skills in the industry and this follows through to clients and governance. Do we have a [client] body that has been there and done it before?
“[Government] must not under-estimate the importance of the delivery mechanism. The timing of bringing in private sector involvement is going to be critical,” he said.