Former HS2 Ltd chair Sir Terry Morgan has said High Speed 2’s (HS2’s) £27bn first phase should initially terminate at Old Oak Common in west London, as a cost cutting measure.
Speaking to the House of Lords economic affairs committee, Morgan said the “extremely complex” 10km section from Old Oak Common to the Euston terminus should be taken out of Phase 1 and off the critical path as a result. This would enable the work to be delivered at a more cost effective pace.
In this scenario passengers would have to transfer from HS2 trains onto the Elizabeth Line to reach central London when the first phase opens in 2026. Old Oak Common will be four stops from the Elizabeth Line’s Tottenham Court Road station in the West End.
Morgan was responding to a question from Lord Layard who cited claims from quantity surveyor Michael Byng that ditching the Euston to Old Oak Common terminus would save £8.25bn. Lord Layard also referred to suggestions form consultant Atkins that axing this section would remove £3.8bn in economic benefits from phase 1.
Byng is credited with creating the method for pricing projects for Network Rail. He told the Sunday Times in July 2017 that HS2 will cost double the government’s official figure and 15 times more than equivalent high speed rail lines in France.
Byng told The Sunday Times: “HS2 has not questioned the figure, or my methodology, nor have they come up with any structured estimate of their own… I got a call from the Department for Transport (DfT) saying: ‘Look, if 10km is going to cost us £8.25bn, what chance have we got of getting to Birmingham?’ I said: ‘I’ll work it out for you.’”
Morgan said he would not scrap the Euston terminus, but would “disconnect it” from Phase 1 and reprogramme it for delivery alongside Phase 2 when the volumes of passengers heading into London increase significantly.
“If you put too much pressure on Euston, then it’ll cost,” he said. “My view is take Euston off the critical path and let the programme team decide the best way to manage that project.
“It doesn’t have to wait for the full implementation of stage 2b, but I’ve taken a view that it is possible to vary the timing of Euston versus Old Oak Common. Old Oak Common will be ready. It’s a much simpler thing to do.”
This would allow Euston to be developed as “safely and quickly” as it could without the pressure of having to be delivered with the opening of phase 1 he said.
As a programme manager, he said he would have liked to have seen “more flexibility” about Euston being on the critical path.
“The complexity, just getting the ground cleared, there’s an extraordinary amount of money being spent,” he said. “It’s hugely challenging, more challenging than anybody could possibly have ever estimated.
“It’s got enough challenges to make sure that the impacts on the public are minimised, that I think it has an opportunity not to be seen as critical.”
Later in the meeting transport minister Nusrat Ghani fully rebutted Morgan’s suggestion.
”This is a city to city network and we have no plans to terminate at Old Oak Common,” she said. “I really do believe that is what passengers will want,” she said. ”It is what the evidence suggests, it is what we are planning for and what we will deliver.”
Ghani added that she “did not recognise” the £8.25bn figure cited by Layard but did agree to her DfT officials providing the committee with some official costing of potential savings from terminating at Old Oak Common and what would be lost in terms of economic benefits.
Some of the committee members also asked Morgan to share his views on the deliverabilty of the overall programme within the official £56bn figure.
Morgan said that it was inevitable that the scope would have to be reduced or the timescales increased if the budget was to be met. Responding to a question suggesting that reducing the speed of HS2 trains to that of trains on existing TGV and other high speed lines in Europe could shave up to 9% off the budget, Morgan said it was more complex than that, and that the planned 18 trains an hour on the line was a level of loading unprecendented in Europe.
“The combination of speed and loading is proving very challenging to the engineers,” he said. “The scope is specified by the government and that is what is being worked to. But it will come as no surprise to tell you that the HS2 team is looking at what-ifs,” he said. “What if it’s not 18 trains an hour?”
“If you take that triangle of scope, cost and time, something will have to give. Do we need the speed? Do we need the frequency?” he asked.
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