Work on a section of the second phase of High Speed 2 will be completed six years earlier than planned, the government has confirmed.
Chancellor George Osborne announced that the Birmingham to Crewe leg of the rapid rail link would open in 2027 – just a year after the first phase from London to Birmingham.
The rest of the second phase - from Crewe to Manchester; and from Birmingham to Leeds - is not expected to be operational until 2033.
Osborne said: “In my spending review, we committed to the biggest rise in transport spending in a generation, meaning that major projects like the construction of HS2, to link the Northern Powerhouse to the South, can begin.
“Bringing forward this part of the HS2 route by six years is a massive step in the right direction for the Northern Powerhouse where high speed rail will play a big role in connecting up the entire region with the rest of the country.”
Sir David Higgins – chairman of project promoter HS2 Ltd – called in March 2014 for an acceleration of the section to Crewe. And it was announced in September 2015 that work on the section, dubbed Phase 2a, could be awarded to firms who pre-qualify for Phase 1 civils contracts.
Higgins said today’s decision represented a “significant milestone” for the HS2 project, which is expected to cost £55.7bn in today’s prices.
“By accelerating the second phase between Birmingham and Crewe, we will bring the capacity, connectivity and regeneration benefits of HS2 to the North-West and Scotland years earlier than originally planned,” he said.
“It has also been very gratifying, as we develop the plans for Phase 2, to see a consensus grow among the city regions in the East Midlands and Yorkshire on the siting of future hub stations at Toton and Leeds city centre respectively. We all recognise the huge contribution this infrastructure investment can make in helping to rebalance our economy.”
Civil engineers said the decision to build phase 2a sooner could have skills benefits.
ICE director-general Nick Baveystock said: “We welcome the news that HS2 will be built as far as Crewe six years earlier than planned - the North needs the benefits of high speed rail as soon as possible.
“We know from experience that greater continuity between the two phases of a project can create a positive impact on the UK’s engineering skills pipeline, as the workforce does not need to be retrained or stood down half way through. It also provides a platform for investment in better and more efficient production techniques.
“If we are to realise these benefits, HS2 must be seen in the context of a wider national transport strategy, rather than a single project developed in isolation.”
The deadline passed this month for expressions of interest in seven contracts that could be worth almost £12bn to work on Phase 1 and potentially Phase 2a.
Chris Dulake, engineering director at HS2, told New Civil Engineer that the project promoter would look favourably on consortiums that could show time spent working on the Crossrail.