A House of Lords committee has called for a major rethink of High Speed 2 (HS2) in order to address “fundamental flaws” with the route and curb the project’s “out of control” costs.
In its report Rethinking High Speed 2, the Lords Economic Affairs Committee raises concerns that overspening on the southern half of HS2 could jeopardise the northern section from going ahead.
Instead, the report concludes that funding should be ringfenced for phase 2 of the project - connecting Birmingham with Manchester and Leeds - as well as Northern Powerhouse Rail - a cross country line connecting Hull, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield.
The report adds that despite “serious questions” being posed by the committee during a 2015 report, the government was still “no nearer to providing satisfactory answers”.
“If costs overrun on the first phase of the project, there could be insufficient funding for the rest of the new railway,” said Lords Economic Affairs Committee Chair Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.
“The northern sections of High Speed 2 must not be sacrificed to make up for overspending on the railway’s southern sections.”
He added: “The plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail should be integrated with the plans for the northern section of HS2, and funding for the project ringfenced. This will allow rail investment in the north to be prioritised where it is most needed.”
Dumlean also said that with costs appearing to be out of control, it was surprising that the government had not considered terminating the line at Old Oak Common to the west of London and lowering the design speed of the line.
In line with this, the report stated that the Department for Transport’s (DfT) method of appraisal for large infrastructure projects was not fit for purpose, saying the method had “distorted decision-making on the HS2 project in favour of speed” rather than increasing capacity.
The phase 2a Bill is currently going through the hybrid Bill process in the House of Commons having been deposited in 2017. Should it be approved, the process will be repeated in the House of Lords.
Phase 2a will run from just north of the phase 1 terminus at Birmingham Curzon Street Station to the new Crewe Hub Station approximately 90km to the north.
In response to the Lords report, Railway Industry Association chief executive Darren Caplan said that the phase 2a Bill was already making good progress and reiterated that it was “vital” that the bill was passed as quickly as possible to deliver the benefits of HS2.
“The HS2 Phase 2a Bill has made good progress through Parliament and has cross-party support in both the Commons and the Lords, including from the government and opposition,” said Caplan. “HS2 will be transformational, delivering £92bn of economic growth and boosting capacity across our rail system.
“With phase 1 already in progress, it is vital we get phase 2a and 2b through parliament as quickly as possible to deliver the economic, connectivity and passenger benefits that the project will bring.”
A HS2 spokesperson added: “As stated in the report, HS2 is fundamental to the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail. It is also vital to the Midlands Rail Hub, and will transform rail journeys across the Midlands and North, giving passengers thousands of extra seats every day, and taking freight of the roads. As regional leaders across the Midlands and North have repeatedly said, it’s not a case of either or, it’s both.
“We are determined to deliver a railway that is value for money for the taxpayer, and a project that will reshape the economic geography of the country. We have strengthened our controls and are actively applying lessons learnt from recent infrastructure projects to ensure we have the most cost-effective approach.”
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