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HS2 progresses amid calls to scrap it

High speed 2 hs2 1

The site for Euston’s High Speed 2 (HS2) station has been cleared, old carriage sheds have been demolished to make way for new tunnels.

 As revealed in last month’s New Civil Engineer, project promoter HS2 Ltd has entered advanced talks with two joint ventures for the lucrative London stations contracts.  

Likewise in Birmingham, enabling works are underway, with diggers on site to clear the way for the Curzon Street HS2 station.  

But despite £4.1bn already pumped into the mega-rail scheme, calls to scrap the whole scheme have grown louder.

‘Vanity project’

On the eve of last month’s Conservative Party Conference former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom launched separate scathing attacks on what they described as the “government’s vanity project”.

At the conference itself, prominent Conservative MP backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg joined the ranks of dissenters, urging government to pull the plug on HS2.

Speaking exclusively to New Civil Engineer, Rees-Mogg said that the scheme, which will link London with Manchester and Leeds, should be scrapped and the money “better spent elsewhere”.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling turned down the opportunity to defend HS2 in his speech at the conference

Highlighting the need to invest in local rail and road projects, the MP for North East Somerset suggests a bypass for Bath as one such scheme that could be funded by reclaiming the £52bn set aside to deliver HS2 – £20bn more than the original price tag.

“I think it is absolutely time to face the facts and pull the plug on the HS2 project,” Rees-Mogg told New Civil Engineer.

 “I think we must face up to reality and not get sucked into a sunk cost fallacy situation.

“We must not fall foul of investing more time and money into something just because we have already invested a lot into it.”

Spread the money around

He added: “I actually think we should spend more money on smaller infrastructure projects around the country.

“There are plenty of smaller rail and road schemes and I would like to see the focus switched to those.

“In particular I would like to see the delivery of a bypass in Bath, for example.”

Backers of HS2 have been quick to dismiss calls to scrap it. Business secretary Greg Clark said halting the scheme now is “completely the wrong decision”.

“We’ve made a decision to invest in HS2 – I think it’s important that we follow through with that,” he said.

‘Success in business’

Likewise foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said HS2 demonstrates “success in business”, laying down the mantle for “High Speed 3 and even High Speed 4”.

However, transport secretary Chris Grayling turned down the opportunity to defend HS2 in his speech at the conference, focusing instead on a new funding scheme for trunk roads around the country.

In fact, Grayling’s sole mention of HS2 was limited to: “It’s already helping regenerate another part of Birmingham. But crucially HS2 will ease pressure on our overcrowded rail network.”

Meanwhile, with enabling works underway in Birmingham, attention now switches to the delivery costs. Tendering is well underway with the focus currently on the London stations.

With the prequalification questionnaire (PQQ) scheduled to go out this month, those set to miss out on the London stations work are likely to shift their efforts to the second city.

New Civil Engineer understands that HS2 Ltd is in advanced talks with a joint venture (JV) between Mace and Spain’s Dragados for the £1.65bn Euston station job.

Likewise, for the £1.3bn Old Oak Common job, HS2 Ltd is said to be in final contract negotiations with the Balfour Beatty/Vinci/Systra JV.

Offputting contract structure

The Birmingham stations will follow next, but the choice of contract structure may actually put teams off the Curzon Street station job because of concerns it places too much risk on the contractor.

One source told New Civil Engineer thats “a low number of interested parties”, with several joint ventures put off by the “unattractive” nature

of the single stage design and build contract as opposed to the more common two stage approach where a client/contractor break point is

included at the end of the design phase.

With work scheduled to start on Birmingham stations in the third quarter of 2020/21, a smooth tendering process is needed to ease the ever-mounting pressure on the high speed line and ensure its opening in 2023.  

Over budget cost estimates

In June this year, New Civil Engineer revealed that initial cost estimates for the main civils works packages were coming in around £1bn over budget, and that, as a result, the notice to proceed – the notice to start construction – had been pushed back by eight months to allow contractors’ designers to further value engineer the works to meet the budget.

However, it remains unclear how great an impact this work would have on costs given the designs are constrained by specifications set out in the 2017 hybrid bill.

Further questions have been raised since September in relation to the wider scheme when it was revealed that legislation to build the second phase is set to be delayed by a year.

Enabling bill for phase 2

The bill enabling the Phase 2b between Manchester and Leeds will now be tabled in 2020.

But the government insists that this will have no bearing on the full scheme’s final opening date of 2033.

A court battle over the promoter’s plans to buy £2.8bn worth of trains also lays in wait, with Spanish manufacturer Talgo beginning legal action after what it claims was a “botched procurement” process.

But for all the doom and gloom surrounding the project, it is expected to produce benefits.

At its peak, more than 25,000 construction workers will be employed on the scheme.

HS2 Ltd is also leading the way in terms of tackling the skills shortage – the project is expected to generate 2,000 apprenticeships, provide training and employment for jobless individuals and graduates.

With all that, Rees-Mogg may well not get his bypass courtesy of HS2’s funds.

Contracts round up

Civils Area South   

S1 Euston Tunnels and Approaches Skanska Construction UK, Costain, Strabag (SCS JV)

S2 Northolt Tunnels

- Skanska Construction UK, Costain, Strabag (SCS JV)

Civils Area Central

C1 Chiltern Tunnels and Colne Valley Viaduct

- Bouygues Travaux Publics, VolkerFitzpatrick, Sir Robert McAlpine (Align JV)

C2 North Portal Chiltern Tunnels to Brackley

- Carillion Construction, Eiffage Genie Civil, Kier Infrastructure and Overseas (CEK JV)

C3 Brackley to South Portal of Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel

- Carillion Construction, Eiffage Genie Civil, Kier Infrastructure and Overseas (CEK JV)

Civils Area North

N1 Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel to Delta Junction and Birmingham Spur

- Balfour Beatty Group, Vinci Construction Grands Projets, Vinci Construction UK, Vinci Construction Terrassement (BBV JV)

N2 Delta Junction to WCML Tie-In

- Balfour Beatty Group, Vinci Construction Grands Projets, Vinci Construction UK, Vinci Construction Terrassement (BBV JV)

Station design

  • Birmingham Curzon Street

WSP UK (working with Grimshaw Architects)

  • Birmingham Interchange

Ove Arup & Partners International (working with Arup Associates and Wilkinson Eyre Architects)

  • Old Oak Common

WSP UK (working with Wilkinson Eyre Architects)

  • London Euston

- Ove Arup & Partners International (working with Grimshaw Architects)

Station construction (shortlisted contractors)

  • Lot 1 Euston

(Contract award due imminently)

- Costain/Skanska JV

- Mace/Dragados JV

- Bechtel

- Bam Nuttall/Ferrovial

- Agroman JV

- Canary Wharf Contractors/MTR/Laing O’Rourke JV

  • Lot 2 Old Oak Common (Contract award due imminently)

- Balfour Beatty/Vinci/Systra JV

- Mace/Dragados JV

- Bechtel

- Bam Nuttall /Ferrovial/Agroman JV






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